Skip to main content

Plastic pollution in our oceans is set to double by 2040

bird on beach surrounded by plastic
The Ocean Cleanup

Right now, about 11 million metric tons of plastic makes its way into Earth’s oceans every year. If nothing changes, that amount will rise to 29 million metric tons each year, by 2040. That’s roughly equivalent to every three feet of coastline being heaped with 110 pounds trash.

The projection comes from a new study from Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq. A growing population and the production of more single-use plastic will drive the increase. In addition to the plastic found in oceans, people also dump 30 million tons and burn another 50 million tons each year. That, too, is expected to rise.

As part of the study, researchers at the University of Leeds created models of what happens when waste is effectively collected and recycled versus when it isn’t.

“The technology to deal with our waste problems already exists.”

“There are more people with more money buying more goods, but this increase is happening at a faster rate than the capability of local governments to collect the waste,” Dr. Costas Velis and Ed Cook wrote to Digital Trends in an email. They both worked on the models at the University of Leeds. “This is the most critical factor. In the Global South, more than 2 billion people don’t have their waste collected, so they burn, scatter, and bury it,” they explained. “They have to make tough choices in the absence of anything else.”

If a Herculean, worldwide effort were made, the authors of the study say we could reduce the amount of discarded plastic by 80% by 2040. Some of the proposed solutions include reducing plastic production and consumption and switching to paper and compostable material, as well as dramatically increasing waste collection in middle- and low-income countries: By 90% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas.

“The important message is that the technology to deal with our waste problems already exists,” Velis and Cook said. “It is completely within our grasp to solve these challenges, but we need the resources, allocated to the right places in order to do so. Waste collection is the first one, then we need to address the significant societal rejection that is experienced by the 11 million waste pickers who are unintegrated with society around the world.”

Editors' Recommendations

Jenny McGrath
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jenny McGrath is a senior writer at Digital Trends covering the intersection of tech and the arts and the environment. Before…
This sensor-stuffed surfboard fin could help scientists understand Earth’s oceans
smartfin surfboard fin

There are thousands of buoys and autonomous vehicles spread across the vast oceans and seas of this planet, continuously feeding data on the health of our oceans to an ever growing database. But there's a problem: little (if any) data exists on anything but the deep ocean.

Oceanographers need data on shallow water conditions, but have so far been unable to figure out a way to deal with the often turbulent waters of this part of the ocean. Why not depend on the people who are found here most, then? Enter the SmartFin.

Read more
Adidas introduces a 3D printed shoe made from ocean plastic waste
adidas introduces 3d printed shoe made ocean plastic waste screen shot 2015 12 09 at 2 51 08 pm

Looking to walk on water? Well, these new Adidas shoes won't let you do quite that, but you can walk on waste that came from the water (and was 3D printed)! And that's almost the same, right?

Technicalities aside, the latest shoe from the company combines two previously explored concepts -- the use of plastic ocean waste to create a shoe, and 3D-printing a shoe. The former happened in June, when the sportswear company partnered with Parley, an organization dedicated to addressing "major threats towards our oceans." Made entirely of entirely of "yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from ocean waste," the concept shoe was a first attempt at showing how recycled materials could be repurposed for both form and function.

Read more
Intel’s upcoming iGPU might destroy both Nvidia and Apple M2
A render of Intel's H-series mobile processors.

Intel Meteor Lake might not see the light of day on desktops (not anytime soon, at least), but it seems that the mobile chips are going strong.

According to inside sources, laptops equipped with Meteor Lake chips may not even need a discrete graphics card -- the integrated GPU is going to be powerful enough to rival Nvidia's GTX 1650. That's not all, though. It appears that Intel might even be able to compete against Apple's M2 chip, but in a different way.

Read more