10 Critical Take-Aways About Ocean Plastic Pollution


In the environmental world, people are talking about something called the PEW Report. For the layman, on July 23rd, PEW Charitable Trust and its partners unveiled its 78-page annual environmental report. The findings were honestly shocking.

If you don’t have the time to read over 78 pages of environmental science jargon, don’t worry. Luckily I'm here to point out 10 critical need-to-know findings from the study. Here's the big one: according to the PEW Report, plastic pollution isn’t slowing down. In fact, it's set to double or even triple by 2040. That is huge, upsetting news!


Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

If this concerns you at all (and it should, lets be honest), I’ve gone ahead and given you the lowdown here on the ins and outs of the report. Read on to find out more on the current state of plastic pollution and how to slow its spread. Take in the brief summary below, or read the full report here.

If We Do Nothing, Ocean Plastic Will Reach 37 Million Metric Tons A Year by 2040

That’s about 50 kg of plastic debris per 1 meter of coastline worldwide. We’re looking at tripling the amount of plastic in the world's oceans - if we don’t act to slow it.

Current Plastic Reduction Commitments are Only Set to Reduce Ocean Plastic by 7%

Current plastic reduction initiatives by the world's government and industry leaders are only focused on a small number of items (e.g. plastic straws), and on post-consumer solutions. In order to be truly effective, we must broaden our ideas of what plastics to eliminate, and governments must stop plastic pollution at the source.

There is No “One Size Fits All” Solution

Should we focus on pre-consumer solutions, like substitutions for plastic, or should we focus on post-consumer solutions, like recycling? The PEW Report says to be efficient, we will need to seriously beef-up both types of prevention if we hope to succeed.

We Already Have the Means to Reduce Ocean Pollution by Up to 80%

This is a big one folks! According to the Report, we have the means to reduce this pollution while encouraging positive economic, environmental, and societal growth. We even already know how to reduce microplastics. So if we already have the technical solutions, what’s stopping us? A lack of incentives, especially adequate funding.

To Reach Zero Plastic in the Ocean by 2040, We Need More Innovation

In addition to the solutions we already have in place, and the solutions we know how to do but haven’t funded, we need to seriously fund research and development. If we want to get to a goal of zero plastic in the world’s oceans, we also need to focus on innovation for rural areas and less-developed countries.

We Need to Make “Risky” Investments

The production and conversion of virgin (new) plastics is considered a “safe” and attractive investment because we already know how to achieve it. However, we need to invest in “new” or “risky” technologies like plastic substitutes, new recycling facilities, and new recycling collection infrastructure if we’re going to be successful in eliminating plastic wastes.


Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Reducing Plastic Leakage by About 80% Will Bring New Economic Opportunity

Companies ahead of the curve looking to focus on circulating current materials (rather than creating new plastic) will find plenty of new opportunities for growth. This is great news for a world driven by money.

Different Countries Need Different Solutions

This one shouldn’t be a surprise: high-income countries need to prioritize different plastic-solutions than low-income countries. High-income communities must prioritize microplastic reduction, innovation, and substitution. Low and middle-income areas need to focus on boosting recycling infrastructure and decreasing their initial consumption.

Keeping Plastic Out of the Oceans Has Other Benefits

Reducing the amount of plastic leaked into the ocean has benefits beyond the obvious one. It also contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as boosting health, jobs, working conditions, and the environment overall.

We Cannot Delay: Plastic Reduction Must Start Now

The PEW Report estimates that a delay in plastic reduction will be incredibly costly. Even delaying 5 years will result in approximately 80 million tons of plastic being added to our ocean. The Report even estimates that any delay at all might make it impossible to ever achieve a zero-waste goal.


Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Plastic pollution has had profound impacts on the world’s oceans, with more than 800 species known to be affected by plastic. The PEW Study wisely points out that human beings are one of the species most affected by plastic pollution, with all aspects of the plastic lifecycle being known to be hazardous to human health.

The single-use cycle of the plastic industry is not only environmentally hazardous but economically laughable. It is thought that up to $120 billion USD a year is lost due to the fact that there remains economic value in plastics after they are used once. I’m sure that most readers would agree that one hundred and twenty billion dollars is a lot of money to just leave laying around.

The PEW report brings bad news and harsh truths, but it certainly also brings hope. If communities, governments, and industries act now, we can achieve a zero-waste world. I invite you, in light of this recent study, to ask yourself a few simple but critical questions.

  • Do your current actions contribute to the plastic problem? If the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans does end up tripling by 2040, will you be one of the culprits?
  • What are ways you can reduce your plastic impact on the world? Can you carry a reusable water bottle, take your own hygiene kits while you travel, or reuse glass jars to reduce your plastic consumption? There are a million little ways to use less plastic in your life.
  • Do you support companies that actively try to reduce plastic in their manufacturing process? Remember that we vote with our dollars. If a big company is getting support from you regardless of their plastic waste and usage, you are sending them a big message. For instance, Coca-Cola refuses to stop using plastic because it believes that its customers prefer plastic bottles over glass or an alternative. However, lets be honest: the Coke in a glass is obviously superior.

Remember that even small changes add up to a big impact.

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I am a travel writer and sustainable lifestyle blogger. As a world traveler, I love giving others tips on budget travel, new cultures, and how to see the planet in a sustainable, ethical way. I also write on being a digital nomad, hiking and outdoor activities, as well as living an adventurous lifestyle.

Santa Fe, NM

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