Pew and SYSTEMIQ, with the help of their thought partners University of Oxford, University of Leeds, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Common Seas, recently released a report titled “Breaking the Plastic Wave” that focuses on ways to prevent plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The report provides a global analysis of marine plastic pollution and proposes a way to cut plastic pollution by approximately 80 percent by 2040 through implementing existing solutions and technologies. Breaking the plastic wave will take ambitious, immediate, and concerted efforts worldwide. 

Approximately 11 million metric tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year and without drastic changes this pollution is predicted to triple by 2040. There is no single solution or “silver bullet” to curbing plastic pollution but the report creates a path for achievable change. Namely, we must reduce plastic use, find plastic substitutions, improve recycling practices, expand waste collection, and make sure disposal facilities stop plastic leakage.

Achieving the goal of reducing plastic waste in the ocean by approximately 80 percent by 2040 will require significant shifts in economic and investment sectors as well as considerable policy changes from governments. 

Technologies currently exist to address this plastic problem, but lacking infrastructure, policies, financing, and business practices hinder their rapid deployment. There needs to be a shift to investing in the development of reuse and refill systems, sustainable plastic substitutes, and expanded recycling facilities and infrastructure rather than on the production of new plastic. Government incentives and a new approach from industry and investors would be required to bring about this shift.

Each country presents a unique set of plastic pollution challenges and should be addressed using a tailored approach. For example, “middle- and low-income countries should focus on expanding collection of plastic waste, maximizing reduction and substitution, investing in sorting and recycling infrastructure, and reducing leakage from waste sites. High-income countries should incentivize reductions in plastic usage, boost recycling rates, end exports of plastic waste, and address microplastic leakage.”

Reducing ocean plastic pollution creates environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as social and economic benefits through providing jobs around the world. Current commitments to reduce plastic pollution are not enough to solve this problem and “delaying the actions outlined in the report by even five years would add 80 million metric tons of plastic waste to the 248 million metric tons projected to enter the ocean from 2016 to 2040.”

To access the report, click here.