Soon There Could Be More Plastic in the Ocean than Fish

Allison Voglesong IMPACT MILL CONTRIBUTOR
Fish

Davos 2016 – Issue Briefing: Rethinking Plastics by World Economic Forum on Youtube

What if the old adage that “there are plenty of other fish in the sea” turned out to be untrue? I’m not just talking about a heartbreak metaphor, either. Like, actual fish.

Well, if global plastic production continues as it currently does, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight!) by 2050. According to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report released this week at the fancy global leaders World Economic Forum in Davos, business-as-usual in the plastics industry will create this and many other “negative externalities” – economist jargon for the terrible consequences that are not paid for by the companies that create them.

Without changing the supply and demand of plastic, our annual plastic production will quadruple by 2050. That means that the 33% of plastic “leaking” into the ocean, around 102 million tons in 2014, will quadruple!

Check out this infographic about what will happen if plastic production continues as usual:

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image: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

But, wait, there’s good news, too! The report does paint a pretty dire plastic picture, but it also sets forth concrete recommendations for how the industry and consumers (that’s us) can make positive changes that turn the tide. Using the principles of the “circular economy,” the solutions make sure old plastics never become waste that makes its way into the ocean, instead acting as raw material for new plastic items. Circular economy solutions for plastics could actually create billions of dollars in value, rather than costing that much (and more) in clean-up and mitigation efforts.

While we have a long way to go from today’s 5% plastic recycling rates, this report, and the brains and funds behind it, show that it is possible to step away from the single-use status quo of plastics with just a few simple ideas. If we don’t, we’re in danger of being up to our gills in plastic waste, literally. I’d rather have real fish than rubber duck any day, wouldn’t you?

To be clear though, we are the solution. Suits in Davos aren’t going to solve these problems. That’s a pretty incredible power we have – by working together, we could turn a terribly polluted situation into one that’s sustainable for years to come. And it all starts by making small, easy tweaks to our daily routines.

Allison is an Impact Mill contributor who hails from Metro Detroit, Michigan. She holds a BA in International Relations from Michigan State University's James Madison College. Her interests include water pricing, environmental economics and policy, and conflict mediation.