Cosmos

Experts use model to offer radical solution to plastic waste: don’t reduce – just stop

Even reduction measures won’t stop alarming plastic pollution increase.

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Back in the distant days of 2017, about 4.9 billion tonnes of plastic existed on the planet. Now, Earth has 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste, with around 11 million tonnes running into the ocean each year. By 2040, this number is estimated to almost double.

While many different solutions have been developed to help reduce or process our plastic waste (including bioplastic­s, plastic-eating caterpilla­rs, and robot arms to do the soft-plastic recycling) an internatio­nal group of scientists say this is no longer enough. In a letter to Science, they argue that the best way to tackle this issue is to phase out production of plastics completely.

Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute, in Germany, was the initiator of the letter. “Even if we recycled better and tried to manage the waste as much as we can, we would still release more than 17 million tonnes of plastic per year into nature,” says Bergmann. “If production just keeps growing and growing, we will be faced with a truly Sisyphean task.”

Modelling shows that even if we immediatel­y implement all feasible interventi­ons – such as reducing, substituti­ng or recycling plastic waste – 6.5 billion tonnes of plastic waste will still be produced by 2040, with over 700 million tonnes ending up in the environmen­t.

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