In an article published on July 23, 2020, in the peer-reviewed journal Science, a group of researchers led by The Pew Charitable Trusts evaluated five future scenarios for global plastic flows and stocks between 2016 and 2040 to determine the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing plastic pollution. The modeling found that if “all feasible interventions” to reduce plastic pollution are applied, plastic pollution can be reduced by 40% compared to 2016 rates and by 78% relative to a “business as usual” scenario in 2040. However, even if a best-case 78% reduction is achieved, this still “results in a massive accumulation of plastic waste in the environment,” i.e., 710 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040 to be exact. The results were also published on the same day in a full report titled “Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution.”

The study concludes “that urgent and coordinated action combining pre- and post-consumption solutions could reverse the increasing trend of environmental plastic pollution.” Current commitments are estimated to only reduce annual plastic flows into the ocean by 7%. The authors stress that “further innovation in resource-efficient and low-emission business models, reuse and refill systems, sustainable substitute materials, waste management technologies and effective government policies are needed” and that financing for this innovation can come from redirecting existing and future investments originally planned for virgin plastic infrastructure. In an interview with CNN, co-author of the study Winne Lau from The Pew Charitable Trust said “the biggest takeaway from our work is that if we don’t do anything, the plastic pollution problem is going to become unmanageable. Doing nothing is not an option.”

While the true costs of plastic pollution on human health and the environment are still largely unknown, James Palardy from Pew posed the question: “Do we really want to be guinea pigs for a global experiment?” Change is needed across the entire supply chain, and Palardy stressed that “this isn’t a problem for the developing world, this is a problem for everyone to solve.”

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Helen Regan (July 23, 2020). “World will have 710M tons of plastic pollution by 2040 despite efforts to cut waste, study says.” CNN

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (July 23, 2020). “Study confirms need for urgent transition to a circular economy for plastic.”

Steve Toloken (July 24, 2020). “Pew report pushes limiting plastics growth to cut ocean pollution.” Sustainable Plastics

Olivia Rosane (July 24, 2020). “Ocean Plastic Could Triple by 2040, Report Finds.” EcoWatch


Lau, W. et al. (July 23, 2020). “Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution.” Science

Pew Charitable Trusts (July 23, 2020). “Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution.”