53,000,000 tonnes of plastic in rivers, lakes and oceans by 2030, ecologists warn

A mallard duck seen among plastic in polluted water in Cardiff Bay (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

An astonishing 53 million tonnes of plastic will be polluting rivers, lakes and oceans by 2030, ecologists warn.

Environmental experts say this outrageous overwhelming amount of plastic is the minimum predicted and is only if governments meet their global commitments.

This is nearly seven times more than the amount that was deemed shocking in 2015.

Researchers believe the world must act now to focus on recycling rather than creating and wasting more plastic to toxify the Earth’s waters.

Chelsea Rochman, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, said: ‘Unless growth in plastic production and use is halted, a fundamental transformation of the plastic economy to a framework based on recycling is essential, where end-of-life plastic products are valued rather than becoming waste.’

Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean is yet another remote island littered in plastic waste. (Credits: Marcus Eriksen / SWNS)

Stephanie Borrelle, Smith Postdoctoral Fellow at U of T, said: ‘Even if governments around the world meet their ambitious global commitments, and other countries join those efforts to curb plastic pollution, worldwide annual emissions to rivers, lakes and oceans could be as much as 53 million metric tonnes by the year 2030.

‘That’s far beyond the eight million metric tonnes amount that was declared unacceptable in 2015.’

In a study published in Science, the researchers examined the 24-34 million metric tonnes of plastic emissions that enter oceans, rivers and lakes, and modelled future scenarios based on current mitigation strategies.

Plastic bottles are seen in the River Taff in Treforest, United Kingdom. Approximately 38.5 million plastic bottles are used in the UK every day. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

They discovered the world must reduce plastic by 25 to 40 percent, increasing the level of waste collection and management to at least 60 percent across all economies, and recovery of 40 percent of annual plastic emissions through cleanup efforts.

Dr Borrelle said: ‘To put that last number into people power, the cleanup alone would require at least one billion people participating in Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.

‘This would be a Herculean task given this is 660 times the effort of the 2019 cleanup.’

Prof Rochman said: ‘The global community must coordinate a fundamental transformation of the plastics economy, one that reduces the amount of virgin plastic production, and reimagines how we make use and dispose of plastic materials.’


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