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How did we get here? We have been producing vast quantities of plastic products and have had few measures in place to regulate their use or properly manage their disposal.
The PEW Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, University of Oxford, University of Leeds, and Common Seas, provides a global assessment on the flows of plastic into the ocean and the actions needed to address the issue.
Plastic has become ubiquitous on store shelves and in our homes. From wrapped food and disposable bottles to microbeads in body washes, it’s used widely as packaging or in products because it’s versatile, cheap, and convenient. But this convenience comes with a price. Plastic waste is entering the ocean at a rate of about 11 million metric tons a year, where it is harming marine life and damaging habitats.
The report presents 10 critical findings:
- Without action, the annual flow of plastic into the ocean will nearly triple by 2040, to 29 million metric tons per year (range: 23 million-37 million metric tons per year), equivalent to 50 kg of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide.
- Governments and industry leaders are stepping up with new policies and voluntary initiatives, but these are often narrow in focus or concentrated in low-leakage countries. By 2040, current government and industry commitments are likely to reduce annual plastic leakage to the ocean by only 7 per cent (±1 per cent) relative to the Business-asUsual Scenario.
- There is no single solution to end ocean plastic pollution. Upstream and downstream solutions should be deployed together.
- Industry and governments have the solutions today to reduce rates of annual land-based plastic leakage into the ocean by about 80 per cent (82 ±13 per cent) below projected BAU levels by 2040, while delivering on other societal, economic, and environmental objectives.
- Going beyond the System Change Scenario to tackle the remaining 5 million metric tons per year (range: 4-7 million metric tons per year) of plastic leakage demands significant innovation across the entire value chain.
- The System Change Scenario is economically viable for governments and consumers, but a major redirection of capital investment is required.
- Reducing approximately 80 per cent (82 ±13 per cent) of plastic leakage into the ocean will bring to life a new circular plastics economy with major opportunities—and risks—for industry.
- A system change would require different implementation priorities in different geographies and for different plastic categories.
- Addressing plastic leakage into the ocean under the System Change Scenario has many co-benefits for climate, health, jobs, working conditions, and the environment, thus contributing to many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
- The time is now: If we want to significantly reduce plastic leakage, we have the solutions at our fingertips. An implementation delay of five years would result in an additional ~80 million metric tons of plastic going into the ocean by 2040.
Do you want to engage further in the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean?
Check out the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative and get involved!