Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a global environmental crisis driven by the fast growth of the plastic industry. Studies have shown that 9.5 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. More than 750 water species have swallowed or become entangled in plastic. Moreover, microplastics can be found in the human body.

Plastic production is also a factor for increased greenhouse gas emissions. The costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing, and shipping economy are expected to be $13 billion every year. If the plastic industry and waste culture continue to develop, the amount of waste is estimated to double by 2050.

Interventions regarding the elimination of plastic are suggested by many countries. However, a global strategy is missing. The designing of this global strategy needs the evaluation of the effectiveness of the interventions proposed. A specific study for this evaluation took place to measure the future results of these interventions. In the study, five scenarios, based on different interventions, were developed to measure the annual decrease of plastic pollution in the aquatic and terrestrial environments by 2040. They are displayed in the following graph.

The numbers show that the "System change" scenario is the most effective. The current interventions are not enough as we need a circular economy, in which waste culture and greenhouse gas emissions will be eliminated as well as resources will be conserved. Further innovation and commitments by the governments, businesses, and the global community are essential to reduce the problems that plastic pollution causes to the environment, society, and the economy.

Source: W. W. Y. Lau, Y. Shiran, R. M. Bailey, E. Cook, M. R. Stuchtey, J. Koskella, C. A. Velis, L. Godfrey, J. Boucher, M. B. Murphy, R. C. Thompson, E. Jankowska, A. C. Castillo, T. D. Pilditch, B. Dixon, L. Koerselman, E. Kosior, E. Favoino, J. Gutberlet, S. Baulch, M. E. Atreya, D. Fischer, K. K. He, M. M. Petit, U. R. Sumaila, E. Neil, M. V. Bernhofen, K. Lawrence, J. E. Palardy, Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution, Science, 2020