With roughly 11 million metric tons of plastic flowing into our ocean each year — a figure that could nearly triple by 2040 without urgent action — many people might view marine plastic pollution as an insurmountable problem.
In fact, that flow could be reduced by 80 percent over the next 20 years, largely through technologies, business processes and policy models that already exist.
Those are among the top-line findings of a report my colleagues at The Pew Charitable Trusts and I — along with SYSTEMIQ, a London-based sustainability consultancy, and four thought partners — published recently. In that report, titled “Breaking the Plastic Wave,” and in a corresponding paper in Science, we identified the sources of the problem and a credible pathway to solving it.
First, the sobering news: Our research found that continuing what we dubbed the “business-as-usual” scenario would, in 2040, send enough plastic into the ocean to cover every yard of coastline in the world with 110 pounds of plastic. Further, we found that the commitments that governments and industry had made up to mid-2019 would produce only a 7 percent reduction in the annual flow by 2040.
However, all is not lost. We also analyzed a full “system change” pathway in which governments and industry around the world, working together and taking ambitious action, could achieve that 80 percent reduction.
A full system