Plastic could outweigh fish in world's oceans by 2050: report
This 2008 photo provided by NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center shows plastic debris in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii. (NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center / AP Photo)
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016 5:13PM EST
If current plastic production and waste habits remain the same, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum.
The study, released Tuesday, highlights several alarming facts about plastic waste and offers a radical paradigm shift, dubbed “the New Plastics Economy,” to curb the mounting crisis.
Plastics have become nearly unavoidable in modern life, from bags to cellophane to food packaging. The use of plastics has multiplied twentyfold over the past 50 years and is expected to double again in the next 20, researchers say.
A massive amount of plastics – an estimated 32 per cent – falls through the cracks of waste collection programs and gathers in city infrastructure and natural environments. Only 14 per cent ends up in recycling programs, the report says.
Oceans bear the brunt of the load, according to researchers.
Currently, about one garbage truck-sized load of plastics is dumped into the oceans each minute, researchers say. If no action is taken, that rate will double to two loads per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.
“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 (by weight),” the report’s authors write.
The study estimates that at least 150 million tonnes of plastics are floating in oceans today.
Researchers based their findings off interviews with more than 180 experts and analysis of more than 200 studies.
As for environmental damage, the study highlights that plastics carry “a complex blend of chemicals” that could pose problems to oceans and humans. They call for more research into the potential consequences of the possibly dangerous substances.
Researchers also underlined the economic toll associated with current plastic production practices. About 95 per cent of packaging material – an estimated $80 to $120 billion – is disposed of after one-time use, the report says.
To remedy the multifaceted problem, researchers drafted an “overarching vision” called “the New Plastics Economy.” The holistic solution offers ways to ensure that plastics aren’t wasted but instead “re-enter the economy as valuable technical or biological nutrients.”
By finding new uses for plastics and pinpointing alternative production materials, the proposed plan hopes to drastically cut the leakage of plastics into the world’s waterways.
The report was released a day before the annual meeting of global leaders arranged by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.