The projected growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to reduce plastic pollution

Table of Contents

A mess of plastic

It is not clear which strategies are most effective in mitigating the damage from the global problem of plastic pollution. Borrelle et al. and Lau et al. Discuss possible solutions and their effects. Both groups found that immediate, concerted and vigorous action could significantly reduce plastic waste generation in the coming decades, but even at best, large amounts of plastic will still build up in the environment.

Science, this issue p. 1515, p. 1455


Plastic pollution is a planetary threat that affects almost every marine and freshwater ecosystem worldwide. In response to this, multi-stage reduction strategies are adopted, but without a quantitative assessment of how such strategies reduce plastic emissions. We assessed the impact of three broad management strategies, plastic waste reduction, waste disposal and environmental recovery, at different levels to estimate plastic emissions for 173 countries by 2030. We estimate that 19 to 23 million tons, or 11% of the plastic waste generated worldwide in 2016 ended up in aquatic ecosystems. Given the ambitious commitments currently being made by governments, annual emissions could reach up to 53 million tonnes per year by 2030. Reducing emissions to levels well below this forecast will require a tremendous effort to transform the global plastics economy.

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