The amount of plastic flowing into the world’s oceans every year will triple in 20 years if immediate action is not taken, according to a study published Thursday in Science.
That projected growth is equal to nearly 100 pounds of plastic trash per yard of coastline around the world. The research also detailed global reforms that could reduce new plastic pollution entering oceans by more than 80%. Those reforms include myriad pre- and post-consumer changes. Incorporating locally-relevant strategies will be key to reducing pollution, the researchers noted, including supporting so-called waste pickers, the 11 million people worldwide who, often without any employment rights or worker protections, collect recyclable plastic, sometimes directly out of landfills, and account for about 60% of global plastic recycling.
“Waste pickers are the unsung heroes of recycling in the Global South, without whom the mass of plastic entering the aquatic environment would be considerably greater,” Dr. Costas Velis, a Lecturer in Resource Efficiency Systems in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds, said in a statement. “Thus, it is critical that supportive policies are implemented to eliminate the health and safety challenges and wider societal challenges associated with their activities.”