However, industry and government can stem the tide ocean plastic by 80 per cent in the same time frame if they act now, according to scientists
The amount of plastic which ends up in the ocean each year is set to almost triple by 2040 unless governments and industry dramatically ramp up their anti-plastic efforts, scientists have warned.
A sobering report published this afternoon by Pew Charitable Trusts and London-based sustainability consultancy Systemiq estimates that annual ocean plastic waste will soar from 11 million metric tonnes today to 29 million metric tonnes by 2040 if current consumption and production patterns continue.
That would mean the cumulative amount of plastic clogging up the ocean would reach roughly 600 million tonnes by 2040, the equivalent weight of three million blue whales, according to the study, dubbed 'Breaking the Plastic Wave'.
Policymakers already today have at their disposal the tools and technologies needed to tackle the problem, but "rapid and concerted action" is needed, the report contends. With the right mix of measures introduced by industry and government, it estimates the amount of plastic waste flowing into the ocean could fall by much as 80 per cent by 2040.
The report recommends a series of actions that could instigate such a turnaround over the next two decade, including reducing plastic production and consumption, substituting plastics with alternatives such as paper and compostable materials, increasing recycling, expanding waste collection rates in middle- and low-income countries, and reducing plastic exports.
On top of detoxifying the oceans to the benefit of the planet's ecosystems, these actions could provide hundreds of thousands of jobs, slash plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter, and generate $70bn of savings, according to the report.
"There's no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave," said Tom Dillon, Pew's vice president for environment. "As this report shows, we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature."
The study - which was produced in collaboration with the University of Oxford, the University of Leeds, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Common Seas - warns that current commitments from government and industry to curb plastic waste are falling drastically short and are on track to reduce plastic pollution by a mere seven per cent by 2040.
Moreover, the fight against plastic has suffered a major setback worldwide from Covid-19, which has seen demand for single-use personal protective equipment explode and oil and gas companies pivot to plastic to recoup losses from plummeting demand for fuel.
The report notes that, while existing technologies can significantly reduce the flow of plastic into oceans, fully eliminating the flow will require "dramatically increasing" innovation and investment, significant technological advances, a greater emphasis sector-wide on research and development, and new business models.
In the meantime, however, the report authors argue that there is "no viable excuse" for policymakers to stall on taking action to fix the "solvable" plastic crisis.
"It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation," said Systemiq's founder and managing partner Martin Stuchtey. "'Breaking the Plastic Wave' leaves no viable excuse on the table; we have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80 per cent. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so."
Plus Indian Railways aim for net zero, Norway CCS plans, and all the top green business news from around the world this week
UK, Germany, South Korea among nations offering up green stimulus measures but these are still dwarfed by carbon-intensive bailouts, according to Vivid Economics
Resolution backed by EU Parliament sets scene for crunch negotiations with Council over bloc's long-term budget
The electric vehicle company's stock is soaring, and it could soon be eligible for the S&P 500