Plastic to outweigh fish in oceans by 2050, study warns

January 19, 2016 by David Williams
Volunteers clean up plastics from a beach in Hong Kong on June 7, 2009
Volunteers clean up plastics from a beach in Hong Kong on June 7, 2009

Plastic rubbish will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to recycle the material, a report warned Tuesday on the opening day of the annual gathering of the rich and powerful in the snow-clad Swiss ski resort of Davos.

An overwhelming 95 percent of plastic packaging worth $80-120 billion (73-110 billion euros) a year is lost to the economy after a single use, said a global study by a foundation fronted by yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, which promotes recycling in the economy.

The study, which drew on multiple sources, proposed setting up a new system to slash the leaking of into nature, especially the oceans, and to find alternatives to crude oil and natural gas as the raw material of plastic production.

At least eight million tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean every year—equal to one garbage truckful every minute, said the report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which included analysis by the McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment.

"If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050," it said, with packaging estimated to represent the largest share of the pollution.

Call for plastics revolution

Available research estimates that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today.

An Indian woman walks amogst plastic bags and garbage strewn on the banks of the River Ganges at Sangam, the confluence of the G
An Indian woman walks amogst plastic bags and garbage strewn on the banks of the River Ganges at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers in Allahabad on June 3, 2015

"In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish," it said.

"This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy," said Dominic Waughray of the World Economic Forum, the hosts of the annual talks in Davos who jointly released the report.

"To move from insight to large-scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone. The public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilize to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy," he said.

A sweeping change in the use of plastic packaging would require cooperation worldwide between consumer goods companies, producers, businesses involved in collection, cities, policymakers and other organisations, said the report.

It proposed creating an independent coordinating body for the initiative.

"Plastics are the workhorse material of the modern economy with unbeaten properties. However, they are also the ultimate single-use material," said Martin Stuchtey of the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

"Growing volumes of end-of-use plastics are generating costs and destroying value to the industry," he added.

Re-usable plastics could become a valuable commodity in a "circular economy" that relied on recycling, Stuchtey said.

"Our research confirms that applying those circular principles could spark a major wave of innovation with benefits for the entire supply chain," he said.

Explore further: Biotech solutions offer greener plastic waste recovery

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Jeffhans1
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2016
Plastic doesn't stay on the surface for too long. Silica forming algae grow on any available surface and weigh it down. Eventually the piece becomes too heavy and sinks to the ocean floor. Millions of years from now, the pieces of plastic will leave distinct markers that identify the stone as originating in the Anthropocene epoch. Since plastic is already being broken down by existing life and its availability as a resource will benefit whatever is able to feed off it, those fossilized remnants may be all the survive by that time.
aksdad
1 / 5 (4) Jan 19, 2016
Clean up our garbage and recycle - Good

Scare people with dubious data and crazy "estimates" - Bad

Rather than calling for a "revolution" of the "plastics industrial ecosystem" that has been innovating for a long time and producing environmentally-friendly plastics and recycling more than ever, how about just encouraging them to continue innovating? Post-industrial countries are generally cleaning up and reducing the amount of plastic getting into the oceans already and developing countries will likely follow suit as they become wealthy enough to do so.

Question of the day: why do the solutions proposed by alarmists always boil down to more government control?
sentry789
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2016
As someone knowledgeable about the plastics industry and environmental pollution issues, I would like Jeffhans1 and aksdad to state their facts about one: sinking benign plastics in water bodies, and, two: innovation in the plastics industry and 3rd world emulation of best practices in waste handling, respectively. While addressing my inquiry, Jeffhans1 and aksdad, could also share their affiliations, and educational backgrounds that informs their "knowledgeable" comments. I would be glad to remove my anonymity to try address the incorrect information presented by these two commentators with more scientifically (and economically accurate information for the concerned citizen. sentry789

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