58.4M Tons of Plastic Will Pollute World's Oceans Every Year By 2030: Report

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences said that by 2030, 58.4 million tons of plastic will be added to the oceans across the world each year, the Associated Press reported.

Recycling plastic and making sure it's disposed of properly isn't going to fix the problem. Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer and co-author of the report, suggested that one way to reduce plastic is to make less plastic.

According to the report, the U.S. is responsible for creating more than 46 million tons of plastic waste per year. About 2.2 billion pounds of it ends up in the oceans.

The report said that the "United States should substantially reduce solid waste generation [absolute and per person] to reduce plastic waste in the environment."

Oceans polluted with plastic are having severe impact on marine wildlife and the health of the water.

The report looked at hundreds of studies, and out of 914 marine species that were examined, 701 had issues with ingesting plastic. A total of 354 of them got tangled in plastic.

Additionally, the report found from DNA studies that some plastic contains different viruses and bacteria from humans and wildlife that could spread disease.

For more reporting from the Associated Press see below.

Hawaii, Plastic, Beach, Pollution
America needs to rethink and reduce the way it generates plastics because so much of it is littering the oceans, the National Academy of Sciences recommends in a new report on December 1, 2021. Above, plastic and other debris on the beach on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on October 22, 2019. Caleb Jones, File/AP Photo

Report chair Margaret Spring, chief conservation and science officer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said plastic pollution is not just an ocean problem, it's a problem in rivers, lakes and on land, adding that the Great Lakes probably have a higher percentage of plastic pollution than the seas.

Researchers have been studying the issue for years but can't really say what percentage of the plastics produced by the U.S. ends up in the water because there are no monitoring and reporting requirements—and there should be, Law said.

The United States is the world's top plastics waste producer. They make and exports plastics as well as import it so the problem is global, the authors said.

"The United States produces the material, imports it, exports it, we all use it, we all dispose of it," Law said. "Being the major offender, we also have this opportunity" to fix the problem.

The plastics issue can't be solved unless the country makes less plastic, designs it differently, keeps better track of it and cleans up more waste, and "that's why our number one recommendation is to reduce solid waste generation," Spring said.

"Recycling cannot manage the vast majority of the plastic waste that we generate," said Law.

The panel provided a menu of potential ways to fix the plastics problem, starting with "national goals and strategies to cap or reduce virgin plastic production."

Virgin plastic is plastic that starts from feedstock that hasn't been used—namely, non-recycled material. The problem, the report said, is that "virgin plastic prices are artificially low due to fossil fuel subsidies, therefore virgin plastics are more profitable to produce"—and U.S. manufacturing of them continues to increase.

"More than 90% percent of plastics are made from virgin fossil feedstocks, which utilizes roughly 6% of global oil consumption," the report said. And this makes virgin plastic a climate issue as well as a pollution problem, said study co-author Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia researcher who focuses on waste issues.

While recycling "is technically possible for some plastics, little plastic waste is recycled in the United States," the report said, noting that materials put in plastics to change hardness or color make them too complex to recycle cheaply, compared to making new virgin plastic.

"One of the major barriers for recycling is the economics of virgin plastic and subsidization of the fossil fuel industry," Spring said.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents plastics manufacturers, lauded most of the academy's report, but it blasted the idea of limiting plastics production.

"This is misguided and would lead to supply chain disruptions, economic and inflationary pressure on already hurt consumers and worse environmental outcomes, particularly related to climate change," American Chemistry Council Vice President Joshua Baca said in a statement. The organization, which touted $7.5 billion in advanced recycling projects since 2017, called for a study on greenhouse gas implications of raw materials used in packaging and plastic products.

The report's figures and recommendations make sense and are grounded in science, said Australian scientist Denise Hardesty who studies the plastics waste issue but wasn't part of the U.S. report.

"We don't want to keep doing beach clean-ups for generations," Hardesty said in an email. "Without a systems change, those (plastic waste) accumulating areas will continue—and will grow."

The issue is important because plastics cause "devastating impacts on ocean health and marine wildlife," the report said.

Fish, marine mammals and seabirds get tangled in plastics or eat them, get sick and frequently die, the report said.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch, San Francisco
America needs to rethink and reduce the way it generates plastics because so much of it is littering the oceans, the National Academy of Sciences recommends in a new report on December 1, 2021. Above, Ocean Cleanup's System 001 is towed out of the San Francisco Bay on September 8, 2018. Josh Edelson/ AFP/Getty Images