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Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution

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Science  18 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6510, pp. 1515-1518
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba3656

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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 planetary threat, affecting nearly every marine and freshwater ecosystem globally. In response, multilevel mitigation strategies are being adopted but with a lack of quantitative assessment of how such strategies reduce plastic emissions. We assessed the impact of three broad management strategies, plastic waste reduction, waste management, and environmental recovery, at different levels of effort to estimate plastic emissions to 2030 for 173 countries. We estimate that 19 to 23 million metric tons, or 11%, of plastic waste generated globally in 2016 entered aquatic ecosystems. Considering the ambitious commitments currently set by governments, annual emissions may reach up to 53 million metric tons per year by 2030. To reduce emissions to a level well below this prediction, extraordinary efforts to transform the global plastics economy are needed.

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