Scientists call for an end to ‘virgin’ plastic production worldwide by 2040

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Trash in the river
Plastic pollution threatens wildlife worldwide. (Getty)

"Virgin" or new plastic production needs to be stopped entirely worldwide by 2040, a group of scientists have said.

The researchers called for a binding global treaty to deal with the issue, which has led to massive ocean and river pollution worldwide. 

Despite rising awareness of the problem of plastic pollution, the amount of new or virgin plastic produced worldwide continues to rise, with 368 million tonnes made in 2019

Read more: How plastic changed our planet forever

Study author Nils Simon told the Guardian: “Plastics are ubiquitously found in increasing amounts worldwide, including in terrestrial environments and even inside the human body.

“Plastic pollution poses a considerable, even though not yet fully understood, threat to the environment, species, and habitats, as well as to cultural heritage.

 “Its social impacts include harm to human health, in particular among vulnerable communities, and it comes with substantial economic costs affecting especially regions depending on tourism.

“Addressing these challenges requires a transformative approach that facilitates measures to reduce production of virgin plastic materials and includes equitable steps toward a safe and circular economy for plastics.”

Around 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world.

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

By 2025, the amount of plastic in the ocean could triple, according to a UK government report entitled Foresight Future Of The Sea

Research by the Ellen MacArthur foundation suggests that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish. 

Science senior editor Jesse Smith writes: “As for much new technology, their development and proliferation occurred with little consideration for their impacts, but now it’s impossible to deny their dark side as we confront a rapidly growing plastic pollution problem.

“The time for preventing plastic pollution is long past – the time for changing the future of plastics in our world, however, is now.”

A large amount of plastic waste comes from packaging – 47% – with textiles responsible for 14%.

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

The researchers called for a global treaty “to cover the entire lifecycle of plastics, from the extraction of the raw materials needed for its manufacture to its legacy pollution”.

Research this year found that thousands of rivers, including smaller ones, are responsible for most of the plastic pollution worldwide.

Previously, researchers believed that 10 large rivers – such as the Yangtze in China – were responsible for the bulk of plastic pollution. 

But in fact, 1,000 rivers (1% of all rivers worldwide) carry most of the plastic to the sea.

The research means areas like tropical islands are likely to be among the worst polluters, the researchers say. 

The new research by the non-profit Ocean Cleanup used measurements and modelling to work out that 1,000 rivers worldwide are behind 80% of plastic emissions. 

Read more: Why plastic straws suck

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