Project

Preventing Ocean Plastics

At least 13 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, threatening marine life and polluting shorelines. That’s the equivalent of a garbage truck emptying a load of plastic rubbish into the sea every minute.

Plastic is interlaced with nearly every aspect of human life, from shopping bags and food packages to car parts and cell phones. But once it enters the ocean, plastic can remain there for hundreds of years, breaking down into ever-smaller pieces that are nearly impossible to remove. Plastic debris is also deadly to marine life, such as when they either mistake it for food and starve as it fills their stomachs or get entangled by the plastic and drown.

As of 2017, factories had produced a cumulative 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastic, and only 9% of that amount had ever been recycled. Plastic packaging and single-use items become waste immediately after use and often escape into the environment, accounting for 61% of the litter scattered across beaches. In fact, plastic debris can be found in just about every corner of the ocean, including remote islands, both the North and South poles, and even the deep seafloor.

In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering marine waters, Pew is working with governments, industry, scientists and other non-governmental organizations or civil society to better understand this global problem and implement solutions across the plastic system.

Goals

  • Work with countries around the world to develop, commit to and adopt strong, enforceable policies to turn back the tide on ocean plastic pollution through addressing in-country plastic use and waste management, reducing unintentional release of microplastics and advancing environmentally sustainable international trade of plastics.
  • Foster increased private sector accountability and transparency to the public through establishment of a voluntary plastic disclosure and reporting system.
  • Update the “Breaking the Plastic Wave” analysis with new data to assess progress since the release of the 2020 report and facilitate additional government policies and corporate action to maintain momentum to stop ocean plastic pollution.
Underwater shot of plastic bottle
Underwater shot of plastic bottle
Article

Breaking the Plastic Wave

Landmark analysis describes actions needed to stop plastic from entering the ocean

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Article

Plastic has become ubiquitous on store shelves and in our homes. From wrapped food and disposable bottles to microbeads in body washes, it’s used widely as packaging or in products because it’s versatile, cheap, and convenient. But this convenience comes with a price.

Plastics
Plastics
Article

Plastic Pollution Could Be Cut by 80% in 20 Years

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Article

Plastic pollution is a costly, destructive, and growing problem worldwide. In fact, at the current rate, the annual amount of plastic waste entering Earth’s ecosystems could almost triple by 2040, according to a study co-authored by researchers at The Pew Charitable Trusts and published in the peer-reviewed journal Science. The paper was published online July 23 and appeared in the journal’s Sept. 18 print edition.

Volunteers try to clear a dam which is filled with discarded plastic bottles and other garbage, blocking Vacha Dam, near the town of Krichim on April 25, 2009.
Volunteers try to clear a dam which is filled with discarded plastic bottles and other garbage, blocking Vacha Dam, near the town of Krichim on April 25, 2009.
Speeches & Testimony

It's Time for Global Action to Eliminate Plastic Pollution

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Speeches & Testimony

On June 10, a group of 16 leading organizations—representing businesses, NGOs, and civil society—highlighted the need for urgent global action to halt the rapid growth of plastic pollution and create a “circular economy,” a closed-loop system in which resources are reused instead of becoming waste.

OUR WORK

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Breaking the Plastic Wave | Pew