More waste collection services in low-income countries could help reduce the amount of rubbish being dumped, researchers say.
Almost one billion tonnes of plastic waste will be dumped on land and at sea by 2040, according to a major new study.
A new digital model which tracks the movement of plastic rubbish around the world has found that between 2016 and 2040, 961 million tonnes will have been discarded into the environment.
The study – titled Breaking the Plastic Wave – has been written by academics at the University of Leeds along with 17 international experts, including from the Pew Charitable Trusts, SYSTEMIQ and the University of Oxford.
In the year 2040 alone, the new modelling predicts:
- 133m tonnes of plastic waste will be burnt in the open77m tonnes dumped on land29m tonnes ending up in the oceans
To make the situation worse, the forecast already factors in governments sticking to their commitments on tackling plastic pollution, meaning much more needs to be done.
Dr Costas Velis, who led the study, said: “This scientific inquiry has for the first time given us a comprehensive insight into the staggering amounts of plastic waste that are being dumped into the world’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
“We now have a much clearer picture of the sources of the pollution and where it eventually ends up. Unless the world acts, we estimate nearly one billion tonnes of terrestrial and aquatic plastic pollution will be generated by 2040.
“Enormous as that figure is, it could be even bigger if it were not for the fact that a vast quantity of waste is openly burned – but that burning also carries a major environmental cost.”
The study finds there is no single solution to the plastic crisis – but there is a significant one: introducing more waste collection services for low-income countries.
It is predicted around two billion people in the world do not have access to a waste collection service and the study says that could grow to four billion by 2040 – around half the world’s population.
Dr Velis told Sky News solving that problem will have an impact.
“Our research confirms the single most impactful intervention is to have people’s waste collected globally,” he said.
“Of course, we have to combine this within a suite of measures, going upstream, on how much plastic we produce and consume, and improving collection and recycling as well.”
The predictions are disheartening for volunteer groups like Turn The Tide in Portishead, Somerset.
For the last two and a half years they have been cleaning the beaches in Somerset of plastic waste.
Sky News joined them on one of their first cleans since the COVID-19 lockdown was introduced.
It was not long before their bags were full with petrol canisters, needles, plastic toys, bottles – all washed up.
Alex McKie, one of the group’s organisers, said: “The problem will always exist in some format, we’ve seen it get gradually worse in the last few years.
“But equally, we’re doing a lot more beach cleans so we’re finding that we’re picking up a lot more.
“But the tide keeps bringing in more and more so the problem is almost endless and at times you feel helpless.”