The flow of plastic into the ocean is projected to nearly triple by 2040. Without considerable action to address plastic pollution, 50 kg of plastic will enter the ocean for every metre of shoreline. Our analysis shows that a future with approximately 80 per cent (82 ±13 per cent*) less annual plastic leakage into the ocean relative to business as usual is achievable by 2040 using existing technologies. This pathway provides benefits to communities, to governments, and even to industry. However, it depends on the immediate, ambitious, and concerted global implementation of solutions across the entire plastics value chain. This vision for system change represents an attractive and viable way forward.
Plastic pollution in the ocean is a major environmental challenge, yet a coherent global strategy to solve this growing crisis remains elusive. It is a by-product of fundamental flaws in an essentially linear plastic system in which 95 per cent of aggregate plastic packaging value—US$80 billion-US$120 billion a year—is lost to the economy following a short first-use cycle. Very different responses to the crisis have been proposed, from eliminating plastic entirely to turning it into fuels, and from developing biodegradable substitutes to recycling plastic back into usable products. Each solution comes with advantages and drawbacks. Understanding the effectiveness of different solutions, and the related economic, environmental, and social implications, is crucial to making progress towards stopping ocean plastic pollution. Here we lay out our report’s 10 critical findings, showing that a path forward to a low plastic pollution future already exists—now we have to make the choice to walk this path.
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