Plastic Flow into Ocean Predicted to Triple by 2040

Katie Ramirez
July 30, 2020

Its findings were released Thursday in both a peer-reviewed Science article and a report called "Breaking the Plastic Wave".

The amount of plastic trash that flows into the oceans every year is expected to almost triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons, new research has found.

If nothing is done, the overall quantity of plastic pollution could reach 600 million tonnes by 2040 - the equivalent of more than three million blue whales, or representative of 50kg of plastic on each metre of coastline worldwide. The problem has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen single-use plastic consumption increase, according to the International Solid Waste Association. The information comes from a group of scientists who have invented a computer model that tracks the flow of global plastic pollution.

The work quantified the associated cost, climate, and employment implications of each scenario.

The findings of the report also show current commitments from countries could reduce the volume of plastic flow by only 7% by 2040 and notes political action must be increased to tackle the issue.

The road map for stemming the runaway ocean plastic waste crisis is among the most detailed ever offered in a study.

By taking these actions, the annual flow of plastic waste into the oceans could be reduced by 80% in the next two decades.

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The strategy laid out in the report includes redirecting hundreds of billions of dollars in plastic production investment into alternative materials, recycling facilities and waste collection expansion in developing countries.

Dr Costas Velis, from the University of Leeds, said: "Unless the world acts, we estimate more than 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic pollution will end up on land or in water bodies by 2040. Doing nothing is not an option", Dr. Winnie Lau, co-author of the study and senior manager for Pew's Preventing Ocean Plastics campaign, told CNN.

Tom Dillon, Pew's Vice President for Environment, said: "There's no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave".

Some criticized the study's inclusion of incineration, chemical recycling and plastic-to-fuel plants as ways to dispose of waste, saying these methods involve the release of climate-warming carbon emissions while also helping to sustain plastic production. But it is also a unique opportunity for providers of new and existing materials and industries that use circular business models and reuse and refill systems, which are created to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible. It took a generation to create this challenge; This report shows that we can solve it in a generation, "said Martin Stuchtey, founder and managing partner of SYSTEMIQ". We can't simply say we're going to recycle everything or use less material, we need to take a holistic approach and look at the whole system.

The study - titled Breaking the Plastic Wave - has been written by academics at the University of Leeds along with 17 worldwide experts, including from the Pew Charitable Trusts, SYSTEMIQ and the University of Oxford. The report was also developed in partnership with a panel of 17 global experts.

The Pew Charitable Trusts made the estimate in cooperation with a research institute. Learn more at The team used a first-of-its-kind economic model to come up with calculations and projections. Since 2016, SYSTEMIQ has been involved in several system change initiatives related to plastics and packaging, including the New Plastics Economy initiative (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) and Project STOP (a city partnership programme focused on eliminating plastic pollution in Indonesia), among others.

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