Based on computer models estimating population, plastic waste and production in 173 countries, a recent study in the journal Science found reducing plastic emissions by 2030 will take a massive global effort.
Co-author Erin Murphy of Arizona State University says, even under optimistic projections, it would take one-seventh of the world’s population spending a day cleaning up plastic waste, and Americans reducing their plastics use by half.
That’s significant given projections that everyday plastic use will continue to increase.
Yet Murphy stressed the task is not hopeless.
“But we need to understand the problem and make sure that the solutions we’re implementing address the root of that problem,” Murphy said.
The research was spurred in part by a 2015 study by University of Georgia’s Jenna Jambeck and her colleagues in the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
Their work estimated 8 million metric tons of plastics entered the ocean in 2010. Jambeck equated that to lining every foot of coastline in the 192 countries in her study with five plastic-filled grocery bags.
Jambeck’s paper helped spark a global response among governments, nongovernmental organizations and environmentalists.
“However, we don’t have a good idea of how effective that international action would really be at reducing the amount of plastics entering the ocean and other aquatic environments like major lakes and rivers,” said Murphy.
So Murphy’s group simulated three futures: a business-as-usual scenario, an ambitious scenario that assumed counties would honor existing global commitments and a target scenario that would reduce annual plastic emissions below Jambeck’s 2010