Plastic flow to oceans may triple in 20 years; Study

The amount of plastic waste that flows into the oceans cold triple in the next 20 years unless the government and the companies take drastic measures to reduce plastic production, warned a new report.

“Plastic pollution is getting worse, and fast. Solving this growing problem requires creating a plastics economy that is smart, sustainable, and circular,” said the report, ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave’. The Pew Charitable Trusts and SystemIQ Ltd, a London-based environmental think tank, has come up with the study.

“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 for every metre of coastline worldwide,” the report said.

Pointing out that Governments and industry leaders were taking several steps like coming up with new policies and voluntary initiatives, the report said that these were often narrow in focus or concentrated in low-leakage countries. It mentioned that the present commitments of government and industries are likely to reduce annual plastic leakage into the ocean by only seven per cent by 2040. “Our results indicate that a far greater scale of action at the system level will be required to address the challenge of plastic pollution,” Pew team said.

They said that a new recycling strategy such as scaling up collection, sorting, and modifying recycling infrastructure would help in the reduction of plastic leakage by 38 per cent by 2040.  This comes to 65 per cent above 2016 levels.

In the report, they said that it was not the lack of technical solutions that was preventing from addressing plastic pollution but inadequate regulatory frameworks, business models, and funding mechanisms were a burden.  “A reduction of plastic production—through elimination, the expansion of consumer reuse options, or new delivery models—is the most attractive solution from environmental, economic, and social perspectives. It offers the biggest reduction in plastic pollution, often represents a net savings, and provides the highest mitigation opportunity in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” the report said.

Pew Charitable Trusts said that technological advances, new business models, accelerating upstream innovation and significant spending  was needed to achieve the vision of near-zero ocean plastic pollution. It required a focused, well-funded Research and Development agenda. “Most crucial will be innovations that work in rural/ remote areas, that eliminate multilayer and multimaterial plastics, and that lead to new tyre designs that minimize tyre dust while maintaining safety standards,” the report said.

The report also called for reducing investments in plastic industry between 2021 and 2040. 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. It said that high income countries should prioritize decreasing overall plastic consumption, eliminating micro plastic leakage, improving product design, and increasing recycling rates. The Middle and low-income countries should prioritize expanding formal collection, maximizing reduction and substitution, investing in sorting and recycling infrastructure, and cutting post-collection leakage, the report noted.

The report argued that priority should be given for the highest-leakage plastic categories such as flexible packaging (bags, films, pouches) and multilayer and multimaterial plastics (sachets, diapers, beverage cartons).

They said that the coming two years was crucial if key milestones are to be achieved by 2025.


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