A tsunami of plastic headed our way?

Now we see it, we can choose to stop it!

“Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution,” a report published by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, Ltd., predicts that with “business as usual” ocean plastic pollution will triple by 2040. That would be the equivalent of dumping 110 pounds of plastic into the ocean from every yard of shoreline worldwide. And plastic in our oceans doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks into ever smaller pieces, eventually becoming a micro-plastic that is found on the surface, in the water column, and on the sea floor, not to mention in the stomachs and tissues of marine animals and in the human food chain.

While offering this dire prediction, “Breaking the Plastic Wave” also outlines changes that could dramatically lower this number, identifying eight strategies that could reduce the flow of plastic into our oceans by 80% by 2040. All of the strategies are based on technologies that exist now. These include reducing growth in plastic production and consumption, substituting some plastics with alternatives such as paper and compostable materials, designing products and packaging for recycling, expanding waste collection rates (especially in middle- and low-income countries), increasing and improving recycling, and reducing plastic waste exports.

In addition to improving ocean health, adopting the changes outlined in the report could generate savings of $70 billion for governments by 2040, relative to business-as-usual; reduce projected annual plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25%; and create 700,000 jobs. Keeping plastics out of our oceans could also improve the lives and health of people living near oceans, as well as tourists. Plus, cleaner oceans benefit businesses and local economies that depend upon them for resources and revenue.

“There’s no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave,” said Tom Dillon, Pew’s vice president for environment. “As this report shows, we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature.” You can read the full report here.

More background is available in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

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