The failure to address the developing world’s waste will result in as much plastic in the oceans as fish by 2050, a leading conservationist has warned.
The head of Ocean Conservancy, Andreas Merkl, warned last year that a combination of low recycling rates and a burgeoning middle class in the developing world, will lead to an exponential rise in the amount of plastic washed out to sea.
Merkl told the Guardian:
If governments and the private sector fail to solve this problem, we end up with an ocean that has an amount of plastic that’s in the same order of magnitude as the amount of fish, in terms of tonnes.
We have enormous uncertainty about what that actually means, but it is a situation where you cannot call yourself an ocean conservationist or any person that cares about the ocean and find that even remotely acceptable.
Now, a ground breaking report has warned there will be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, unless the industry cleans up its act.
The report, which is based on interviews with over 180 experts and analysis of more than 200 other reports, paints a rather harrowing picture for the future of plastics. Plastic has become incredibly popular because of its versatility and low cost, but it is severely hurting the environment, the report warns.
Nearly a third of all plastic packaging doesn’t make it into collection systems, meaning it ends up clogging infrastructure or floating in nature. Just 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, and the reuse rate is far lower than that of other products such as paper, iron or steel.
The Guardian reported last year that there’s an estimated 800 million tonnes of fish in the oceans and around 100-150 million tonnes of plastic. Shockingly, the amount of plastic is increasing by around 8 million tonnes a year, but that growth is expected to increase as more people are able to afford to buy products that are made with, or packaged in, plastic.
Once plastic is caught in the world’s water sources, it causes damage worth $13 billion (£ 9 billion) annually for the tourism, shipping and fishing industries. It also threatens food security for people who rely on fishing to eat and can damage marine life around the world.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the Daily Mail reports that a company in Australia is developing a ‘floating bin’ that automatically sucks rubbish floating on the water into it like a vacuum cleaner. It’s hoped that by using these sea bins, we can begin to clean up the islands of plastic that drift round the world’s oceans.
The report also suggests the beginning a ‘new plastic economy’ where plastics reuse is encouraged and leakage into the oceans is reduced and heavily taxed.