All the grand efforts we see from people, organizations, and even congress people who create new legislation to reduce the amount of plastic trash in our oceans can be uplifting. At least some segments of the human race are thinking of the future we’re leaving behind for next generations, hopefully preserving the planet in the process at the least and maybe even reversing years worth of damage at best.
According to a new extensive report titled “Breaking the Plastic Wave,” all those grand efforts today are pretty much poppycock. Our current scale to limit trash flow into the ocean and retrieve what’s there now is only actually reducing annual flow by just seven percent. The standard doomsday conclusion that comes with these types of studies is as follows: if we keep up our current pace, the amount of plastic waste that finds its way into our oceans will actually triple in the next 20 years. The effects of this are cascading: from trash killing marine life and impacting entire ecosystems to microplastics working their way up the human food chain (yes, the microplastics problem has a direct impact on us as we eventually eat our own trash because of this problem).
The report’s solution, which by the way, ran on the Pew Charitable Turst’s website? Well, there isn’t one, they say. There have to be many. And there is room for a positive outlook. In all the doomsday picture-painting of the new report, researchers outlined that we actually have the resources and capacity to minimize the annual flow of plastic into the ocean by 80 percent in the same 20-year period. Specifically, they outlined eight different categories in which commitments can be ramped up for a greater outcome: reduce the production of plastics, substitute plastics with alternatives like paper or other compostable materials, design more recycle-friendly products, improve waste collection systems by scaling them up, increase mechanical recycling, make advancements in plastic-to-plastic chemical conversions, build better disposal facilities, and reduce plastic waste exports.
“Although the technologies exist to address this challenge, the infrastructure, policies, business processes, and financing are not in place to enable their rapid deployment,” researchers wrote. “A substantial shift of investment away from the production of new plastic to the development of reuse and refill systems and sustainable substitute materials is needed, as are expanded recycling facilities, more collection infrastructure, and new delivery models. This shift would require government incentives and a new approach from industry and investors.”
But the financial cost, they say, is actually just an up-front investment of about $150 billion globally. They project that governments around the world will actually save $70 billion in the process compared with the $670 billion cost of inefficient waste management systems now. In low and middle-income nations, they say efforts will have to focus on expanding the collection of plastic waste, maximizing reduction and substitution, investing in sorting and recycling infrastructure, and reducing leakage from waste sites. Meanwhile, high-income nations can incentivize reductions in plastic usage, boost recycling rates, end exports of plastic waste, and address microplastic leakage. In all, they estimate some 700,000 new jobs can be created around the globe in these combined efforts.