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Persistent Pollutants

Plastics entering oceans could triple in 20 years

by Alex Scott
July 31, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 30


On its current trajectory, the flow of plastics entering the oceans will triple by 2040, to 29 million metric tons per year, equivalent to 50 kg of plastic for every meter of coastline worldwide, according to a review of plastic waste by Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq, a company promoting sustainability. The good news in the organizations’ 150-page report is that available technologies could reduce current flow 80% by 2040. But achieving the goal will require comprehensive, integrated solutions centered on reduction and substitution of plastics, as well as better waste management. The obstacles to change are inadequateregulations, business models, and funding mechanisms, the report concludes. Even if industry and governments meet their current commitments, the world will see only a 7% decline in the amount of plastics entering the oceans by 2040, the authors found. The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, says it supports most of the report’s recommendations but cautions against replacing plastics with materials that have higher environmental costs.


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