Huge amount of plastic will fill oceans and land by 2040: report

A volunteer cleans up the riverbank surrounding the canal in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Before it was a canal, but the continuous deposit of urban waste has completely obstructed it.

Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

More than 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste will flow into the world’s oceans and land over the next two decades without widespread intervention, according to a group of scientists who developed a new computer model to track the flow of global plastic pollution.

Single-use plastic has increased in production in recent decades, filling the oceans and land with waste and overwhelming the ability of waste management systems around the world to dispose of and recycle plastics.

While a global effort to curb plastic consumption and pollution could mitigate pollution by approximately 80%, even at best for global action, around 710 million metric tons of plastic will be dumped into the environment by 2040, according to a new report, “Breaking the Plastic Wave.”

“This scientific research has provided us for the first time with a comprehensive view of the staggering amounts of plastic waste dumped into the world’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,” Costas Velis, professor at the University of Leeds in the UK and author. of the report, he said in a statement.

“We now have a much clearer picture of the sources of the contamination and where it ends,” Velis said.

The increase in single-use plastic, which is projected to increase by 40% in the next decade, has become more problematic during the coronavirus pandemic, with states and countries rejecting reusable products and municipalities reducing recycling operations due to health concerns.

To make matters worse, the pandemic has also disrupted global waste management systems and has caused major cuts in plastic prices.

An Indian woman crosses a bridge as workers burn plastic bags and garbage in a dry canal in Jalandhar, India, on May 10, 2018.

Shammi Mehra | AFP via Getty Images

According to the researchers, the plastic waste that flows into the oceans each year will double by 2040, killing more marine life and entering the human food chain. Most added plastic containers are used only once and then thrown away, and the biggest source of contamination comes from municipal household waste.

Even if governments commit to reducing plastic waste, over the next two decades about 133 million tons of plastic will be burned, 77 million tons will be dumped on land, and 29 million tons will end up in the ocean, according to researchers.

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A major concern is the extent of open burning plastic waste. As the amount of plastic that is dumped into the ocean and seas burns, the process releases greenhouse gases that heat the planet, as well as cancer-causing toxic substances, such as dioxins, mercury, and styrene, that are harmful to health. human and animal.

“Burning is a double-edged sword. It reduces the amount of plastic that could eventually end up in the seas and on land, but it also poses many other environmental problems, including a significant contribution to global warming,” said Ed Cook, a researcher at the University of Leeds and author of the study.

A woman wearing a face mask and plastic bag drops a cart loaded with recyclables into the streets of Lower Manhattan during the outbreak of the new coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) on April 16, 2020 in New York City. .

Johannes Eisele | AFP | fake pictures

China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand contribute the most plastic waste in the oceans, according to a 2015 report by the Ocean Conservancy. China is the world’s largest producer of plastic pollution.

The researchers said that waste collection is the most important way to reduce pollution, but emphasized that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mitigate plastic pollution. The report called for a dramatic change in the global plastic supply chain to stem the influx of plastics into the environment.

A combination of reducing plastic production and consumption, replacing plastic with paper or compostable products, creating recyclable products, expanding global waste collection capacity, and reducing waste exports could reduce the flow of plastic to oceans at 80% of projected level by 2040. report said.