Ocean Plastic Pollution Will Triple by 2040 Without Drastic Action

A little boy plays on a plastic-covered beach in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ed Wray / Getty Images

Plastic pollution is a big problem. But just how big has remained something of a mystery until recently, when a detailed study was published that delved into the actual numbers driving the crisis. This important study was the result of two years of research and analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts and environmental think tank SYSTEMIQ, Ltd. that, together, wanted to quantify the problem that we face in order to come up with more effective solutions for it. It was published both in the form of a peer-reviewed study in Science journal and as a report.

What the study revealed is that ocean plastic pollution will triple by 2040 if nothing is done to stop it. That translates to a horrifying 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of plastic per 3.2 feet (1 meter) of shoreline. The usual number cited for annual ocean plastic pollution is 8 million metric tons (one metric ton is 2204.6 pounds), but the study says that’s really closer to 11 metric tons, and it could easily reach 29 metric tons in another twenty years – and this doesn’t even include the enormous quantities of plastic that are discarded on land every year.

Furthermore, even if governments and businesses followed through with all their promises to curb plastic waste, the global flow of ocean plastic would shrink by a mere 7% by 2040, which is far from adequate.

The researchers created and analyzed five scenarios in which plastic waste is dealt with differently between now and 2040. Read more…

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