According to a new study by a group of scientists who developed a new computer model to track the flow of global plastic pollution, more than 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste will flow into the world’s oceans and land by 2040 if there’s no intervention.
Single-use plastic has surged in production in recent decades, filling up oceans and land with waste and overwhelming the capability of waste management systems across the world to dispose of and recycle the plastics.
While a global effort to curb plastic consumption and pollution could mitigate pollution by roughly 80%, even under a best-case scenario for global action, about 710 million metric tons of plastic will be dumped into the environment by 2040, according to a new report, “Breaking the Plastic Wave.”
The amount of plastic entering the ocean each year would nearly triple, from 10.8 million tons to 28.5 million metric tons over the next 20 years, equivalent to nearly 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of plastic on each metre of coastline worldwide, they say.
Plastic waste is also being openly burnt, which reduces the amount of waste being discarded but can release toxic fumes and greenhouse gas emissions, they warn.
Improving waste collection services would be the single most influential factor in reducing pollution but a ‘system-level change’ in the global plastics supply chain is also needed to avoid the 700-million-ton-prediction becoming a reality.
“This scientific inquiry has for the first time given us a comprehensive insight into the staggering amounts of plastic waste that are being dumped into the world’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,” Costas Velis, a lecturer at the University of Leeds in the U.K. and an author of the report, said in a statement.
“We now have a much clearer picture of the sources of the pollution and where it eventually ends up,” Velis said.
Increase in production and disposal of single-use plastic, which is projected to increase by 40% in the next decade, has become more problematic during the coronavirus pandemic, as countries turn away from reusable products and municipalities scaling back recycling operations due to fears over spreading the virus.
The pandemic has also shifted global waste management systems and reduced prices of plastic.
The projected increase in plastic waste according to researchers, will kill more marine life and endanger the human food chain.
According to the study, the biggest source of pollution is municipal waste from households.