Catz Fellow, Richard Bailey, Co-Authors Major Report in Ocean plastic pollution

Richard Bailey, Professor of Environmental Systems, has contributed to the report titled “Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution”, published today. This report is the research findings of a new analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, University of Leeds, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Common Seas.

Richard has been working for a number of years on this research, creating and running the numerical model that sits underneath the analysis and generates the results. The research found that the annual flow of plastic into the ocean could nearly triple by 2040 if no action is taken. The report also identified solutions that could cut this volume by more than 80% using technologies that are available today, if key decision-makers are willing to make system wide changes.

The release of this report coincides with the publication of “Evaluating Scenarios Toward Zero Plastic Pollution” in the journal Science. Co-authored by Richard, in collaboration with a global group including researchers from Pew Charitable Trusts, SYSTEMIQ, University of Leeds, University of Plymouth, Imperial College London and others, it outlines the technical underpinnings of the report.

The research found that if no action is taken to address the projected growth in plastic production and consumption, the amount of plastic entering the ocean each year would grow from 11 million metric tons to around 29 million metric tons over the next 20 years. Because plastic remains in the ocean for hundreds of years and may never truly biodegrade, the cumulative amount of plastic in the ocean by 2040 could reach 600 million tons.

“Breaking the Plastic Wave” identifies eight measures that together could reduce by about 80% the plastic pollution that flows into the ocean annually by 2040, using technology and solutions available today. Among them are reducing growth in plastic production and consumption, substituting some plastics with alternatives such as paper and compostable materials, designing products and packaging for recycling, expanding waste collection rates in middle- and low-income countries, increasing recycling, and reducing plastic waste exports. Crucially, it also shows that no single solution (e.g. a massive ramp-up of recycling within feasible limits) can solve this problem.

In addition to improving ocean health, adopting the changes outlined in the report could generate savings of $70 billion for governments by 2040, reduce projected annual plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% and create 700,000 jobs.

Read more about the research and see the full report on Pew’s website here.


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