Research Article

Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution

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Science  18 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6510, pp. 1455-1461
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba9475

A mess of plastic

It is not clear what strategies will be most effective in mitigating harm from the global problem of plastic pollution. Borrelle et al. and Lau et al. discuss possible solutions and their impacts. Both groups found that substantial reductions in plastic-waste generation can be made in the coming decades with immediate, concerted, and vigorous action, but even in the best case scenario, huge quantities of plastic will still accumulate in the environment.

Science, this issue p. 1515, p. 1455

Abstract

Plastic pollution is a pervasive and growing problem. To estimate the effectiveness of interventions to reduce plastic pollution, we modeled stocks and flows of municipal solid waste and four sources of microplastics through the global plastic system for five scenarios between 2016 and 2040. Implementing all feasible interventions reduced plastic pollution by 40% from 2016 rates and 78% relative to “business as usual” in 2040. Even with immediate and concerted action, 710 million metric tons of plastic waste cumulatively entered aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. To avoid a massive build-up of plastic in the environment, coordinated global action is urgently needed to reduce plastic consumption; increase rates of reuse, waste collection, and recycling; expand safe disposal systems; and accelerate innovation in the plastic value chain.

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