The Oceans Will Contain More Plastic Than Fish By 2050: Report (UPDATE)

But a BBC analysis of the underlying data questions whether that estimate is valid.

In case you need further evidence that mankind is doing a remarkable job of destroying the planet, consider this: If we continue our ways, the world’s oceans will soon be home to more plastic than fish.

That’s according to a new report from the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tonnes (165 million tons) of plastics in the ocean today,” the report reads. “In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne (1.1 tons) of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”

In other words, in just 34 years, plastic trash in the ocean will outweigh all the fish in the sea.

A BBC analysis of the underlying data, published shortly after the report was issued, did question the report’s conclusions. In particular, the BBC pointed to problems with extrapolating one study’s projections of plastic pollution beyond the year 2025, and also pointed out the challenge of estimating the tonnage of fish via proxies like food sources further down the food web.

Plastic garbage collected from research plot to assess plastic pollution, Eastern Island, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refu
Plastic garbage collected from research plot to assess plastic pollution, Eastern Island, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

The study describes plastics as the “ubiquitous workhorse material of the modern economy” and finds that after a short first-use cycle, 95 percent of plastic packaging material value, or $80 billion to $120 billion annually, is lost to the economy.

At least 8 million tonnes of plastics ― equivalent to one garbage truck every minute ― leak into the ocean each year, according to the World Economic Forum.

The 36-page report, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics,also offers hope.

By redesigning materials and developing new technologies, the research shows it is possible to eradicate plastic waste.

Achieving such systemic change, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said in a statement, will “require major collaboration,” including from consumer goods companies, plastics manufacturers, businesses involved in collection and recycling and policymakers.

“This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem,” Dominic Waughray of the World Economic Forum said in a statement, “and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy.” 

Today, only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, according to the World Economic Forum. In comparison, the global recycling rate for paper is 58 percent, while that of iron and steel is 70 percent to 90 percent.

More from the World Economic Forum 2016:

This article has been updated to include information from the BBC that call into question the report’s estimates.

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