The world’s plastic pollution problem is assuming alarming proportions. Around 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic will be dumped into the environment by 2040 if the world fails to act, warned a group of scientists tracking plastic pollution. Plastic waste entering the oceans every year could double in the next 20 years, they said in a ground-breaking study.
The study says integrated action such as increasing waste collection can reduce plastic pollution drastically. However, around 710 million tonnes of plastic waste will be generated — 250 million tonnes will be pushed into water and 460 million tonnes will be dumped on land — even if concerted action to reduce waste is taken across the globe, according to a computer model created by 17 global experts. The model maps the movement of plastic waste globally.
The study has revealed the enormity of the problem caused by the failure of the waste management systems that are unable to cope with the increasing volumes of waste. The primary objective of the study was to understand how plastic reached the oceans. About 30 million tonnes plastic waste is dumped into landfills every year, 50 million tonnes are burned in the open, while 11 million tonnes end up in the seas.
The pollution levels will rise every year till 2040, when 133 million tonnes of plastic waste will be burnt, 77 million tonnes dumped on land, and 29 million tonnes will flow into the seas, irrespective of government action to reduce pollution. The researchers from the University of Leeds analysed the role played by effective waste management in bringing down pollution, and the impact of mismanagement of plastic waste collection.
This study has given us a comprehensive insight into the amounts of plastic waste being dumped into the environment, said Costas Velis, the lead investigator of the project said. The scientists say there is no ready remedy to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. It calls for a slew of measures from the governments and businesses.
Enormity of the task
- Nearly 95% of the plastic packaging material is used only once before it is dumped.
- The largest source of pollution was uncollected solid municipal waste, mostly from households.
- Around 25% of the plastic waste is not collected, forcing people to dispose of it themselves. A third of plastic waste will go uncollected by 2040.
- While burning reduces the amount of waste, it will generate greenhouse gas emissions.
The absence of waste collection services has led to the mushrooming of informal waste collection systems run by waste pickers. It is estimated that there are around 11 million waste pickers across the world. They collect more than half of recycled plastic waste globally.