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Experts predict plastic pollution in the ocean will triple in the next 20 years

Efforts from both lawmakers and consumers are needed to slow down this worrying trend

Photo (c) solarseven - Getty Images
Plastics, like straws and contact lenses, have been found to build up in the ocean, and it could take hundreds of years before they ever disintegrate. 

Now, a new study suggests that plastic pollution will likely get much worse over the next two decades if left unchecked. Researchers are predicting that if the current rate of pollution keeps up without intervention, pollution could increase threefold by 2040. 

“There’s no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave,” said researcher Tom Dillon. “As this report shows, we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature.” 

Preventing a growing problem

To measure and predict the plastic pollution in the oceans, the researchers created a model that helped them track current pollution progress. After adjusting the model for several potential interventions, they predicted what the oceans could look like in the next 20 years. 

Though the study showed that plastic pollution will multiply if nothing changes, the researchers explained that there are several tangible ways to work to reduce pollution -- and they come with several benefits. 

Improving recycling habits, opting for compostable items when possible, and increasing waste collection are just a handful of ways that real change can be made. And while all these efforts would work in reducing how much plastic lands in the ocean, there are more benefits than many consumers may realize. 

For starters, adopting these habits would create hundreds of thousands of jobs while also providing a huge environmental boost by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, being more proactive about plastic pollution in these ways could ultimately reduce ocean pollution by 80 percent. 

The researchers hope that consumers realize minor actions can add up and that plastic pollution in the oceans isn’t a doomed issue. With consistent efforts, significant strides can be made. 

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable,” said researcher Martin Stuchtey. “It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation. We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80 percent. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” 

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