A new report gives us a much-needed reality check when it comes to global commitments and plans to reduce ocean plastic pollution. However, all of the system-wide interventions are available and must be implemented without further delay.
That the annual flow of ocean plastic will triple in just 20 years from 11 million metric tons to 29 million metric tons, in a business as usual scenario, is the outcome of a new comprehensive landmark study ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave’, recently published by Systemiq and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The report comes at a critical time when a surge of plastic waste has recaptured our imaginations due to the ongoing pandemic, and government and business commitments to reduce the problem are ramping up. The report demonstrates that best intentions from governments, industry and businesses to reduce ocean plastic pollution will fall short and multiple system-wide interventions are needed to have significant impact.
In their analysis which takes into account major industry commitments, national and EU wide government plans, as well as the 2019 European Union single-use plastics directive, plastic leakage into the ocean will still be expected to reach 27 million metric tons per year by 2040, equating to just a 7% reduction compared to the business as usual scenario. While companies are currently struggling to meet their 2025 commitments of increasing recycled plastic content, their model also demonstrates that even if the EU directive on single-use plastics was implemented globally, ocean pollution reduction would fall by only 15%.
While all of these measures are very much needed and clearly set the direction, it has become increasingly clear that a wider compound scenario is required to optimise all current solutions. Based on their System Change Scenario, comprised of 8 interventions, from recycling to expanding waste collection rates in the Global South, annual land-based plastic leakage can be reduced by 80% by 2040. For this to occur a major redirection of capital is needed, with a new circular plastic economy as result creating both opportunities and risks for the industry.