50 kg plastic for every metre of coast by 2040 without drastic action: Report

Coordinated global action is needed to avoid a plastic pile up

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 24 July 2020
Without coordinated action, 50 kg of plastic will enter oceans for every metre of coast by 2040, a new report has said. Photo: pxfuel.com

The annual flow of plastic into the ocean could triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tonnes per year, without immediate and sustained action, according to a new study.

That is equivalent to 50 kilogram of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide, according to the study by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ.

The research team wanted to find out solutions for the burgeoning problem of plastic waste. It created a model that mapped out the entire global plastic system from production to waste and developed five scenarios to estimate reductions in plastic pollution between 2016 and 2040:

  • Business-as-Usual
  • Current commitments
  • Collect and dispose
  • Recycling
  • Reduce and substitute

The study identified the reason behind the waste mismanagement: A gap in collection. Today, two billion people lack access to waste collection systems. By 2040, that number will double to four billion, mostly in rural areas of middle- and low-income countries.

The study also found that closing the collection gap would require connecting 500,000 people a day to a garbage system, between now and 2040.

What can be done

The report suggested eight system interventions to break the cycle of ocean plastic pollution:

  • Reduce growth in plastic production and consumption to avoid one-third of projected plastic waste generation by 2040
  • Substitute plastic with paper and compostable materials, switching one-sixth of projected plastic waste generation by 2040
  • Design products and packaging for recycling to expand the share of economically recyclable plastic from an estimated 21 per cent to 54 per cent by 2040
  • Expand waste collection rates in middle- and low-income countries to 90 per cent in all urban areas and 50 per cent in rural areas by 2040 and support the informal collection sector
  • Double mechanical recycling capacity globally to 86 million metric tonnes per year by 2040
  • Develop plastic-to-plastic conversion, potentially to a global capacity of up to 13 million metric tonnes per year
  • Build facilities to securely dispose of the 23 per cent of plastic that still cannot be recycled
  • Reduce plastic waste exports into countries with low collection and high leakage rates by 90 per cent by 2040.

The report highlighted that innovation, unprecedented and resolute action from all stakeholders was required to stop plastic pollution. It warned that delaying implementation of the system interventions from 2020 to 2025 would add 80 million metric tonnes more plastic to the ocean.

The findings of the report were published in the journal Science on 23 July, 2020.

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