Ocean Plastic Could Triple by 2040, Report Finds
One of the most detailed studies of the plastic pollution crisis was released Thursday, and the picture it paints is not pretty.
There are currently about 11 million metric tons of plastic entering the world's oceans every year, the report calculated. That's higher than the often-cited eight million figure, The Guardian pointed out. But that number will nearly triple to 29 million metric tons a year by 2040 if nothing is done to stem the flow of plastic. What's more, existing commitments from governments and businesses will only reduce that flow by seven percent by 2040.
"The biggest takeaway from our work is that if we don't do anything, the plastic pollution problem is going to become unmanageable. Doing nothing is not an option," Dr. Winnie Lau, study coauthor and senior manager for Pew's Preventing Ocean Plastics campaign, told CNN.
Even immediate, significant efforts to reduce plastic pollution could leave Earth with 710 million metric tons by 2… https://t.co/On7Kbnj8xf— Science Magazine (@Science Magazine)1595532642.0
The study is the result of a two-year research project led by the Pew Charitable Trusts and environmental think thank SYSTEMIQ, Ltd, as National Geographic reported. Its findings were released Thursday in both a peer-reviewed Science article and a report called "Breaking the Plastic Wave."
The findings are not all doom and gloom. The researchers created a first-of-its-kind model of the global plastic system in order to determine the most effective means of solving the crisis. They found that a combination of already existing strategies and technologies could cut the amount of plastic entering the ocean by almost 80 percent by 2040.
New plastics report is out now! Developed by @SYSTEMIQ_Ltd and @pewtrusts and supported by @UniofOxford… https://t.co/YnQupiP9Hv— SYSTEMIQ (@SYSTEMIQ)1595528193.0
One reason that current policies have done so little to reduce the overall amount of plastics entering the environment is that they tend to focus on single items, like straws or bags. Instead, the researchers recommended a set of solutions that target the entire plastics life cycle, from production to recycling.
"All the initiatives to date make very little difference," Pew Charitable Trusts international environment director Simon Reddy told The Guardian. "There is no silver bullet, there is no solution that can simply be applied — lots of policies are wanted. You need innovation and systems change."
To create systemic change, the report recommended:
- Reducing the production of new plastics
- Substituting non-plastic alternatives for plastic products
- Designing easy-to-recycle products
- Improving waste collection, especially in less wealthy countries
- Increasing recycling worldwide
- Developing methods of converting plastics into other plastics
- Building better plastic disposal facilities as a transition to a circular economy
- Cutting the export of plastic waste
However, even with all these solutions put into place, there will still be an estimated 710 million metric tons of plastic waste in the world's oceans by 2040, the report found.
"The key message from this paper is that even with huge changes to how plastics are produced, used, reused and disposed of, plastic pollution on land and in the ocean is here to stay," University of Portsmouth ocean policy professor Stephen Fletcher told The Guardian.
But that is not an excuse for inaction. Even a five-year delay in enacting the report's solutions would mean an additional 80 million metric tons of plastic in the seas, National Geographic found.
Ocean advocacy and anti-plastic groups generally welcomed the report's findings.
"If we're going to significantly reduce ocean plastic pollution, we need an innovative and rigorous approach to ensure that the strategies we design are set up to delivering results," World Wildlife Fund head of plastics and business Erin Simon said in the report's introduction. "This research does exactly that."
"Because of the pollution released by incineration and chemical recycling, these waste-management 'solutions' should not be considered responsible pathways in curbing plastic waste," Oceana's plastics campaign director Christy Leavitt said in a press release.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.