Plastic pollution worldwide will double by 2030 unless major changes are made in how plastic waste is managed, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.
The March 5 report, Solving Plastic Pollution Through Accountability, was released a week ahead of a meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya, where the impact of plastics will be debated.
WWF urged governments there to negotiate a global treaty on plastic waste, similar to the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer.
The Switzerland-based environmental group said the big increase projected in global plastics production — estimated to jump 40% between 2016 and 2030 — will overwhelm waste management systems.
"If business continues as usual, by 2030 the plastic system is expected to double the amount [of] plastic pollution on the planet, with oceans the most visibly affected," WWF said. "Although existing initiatives to combat plastic pollution are in place in many regions, they are not enough."
Echoing the widely quoted figure of 8 million tonnes of plastic leaking from land into waters each year, the report predicted that pace would continue.
"Annual ocean plastic leakage will remain above 9 million tonnes per year until 2030, because the growth in plastic consumption outstrips the growth in waste management capacity," WWF said.
The report laid out several strategies, including phasing out single-use plastics, which it said currently account for 40% of plastic use, and looking for what it called "environmentally sound alternatives" to the material.
It also called for much more consideration of environmental impacts from product design to disposal.
"This crisis can be solved, but we need to start at the root and fix what is a fundamentally broken system," Nik Sekhran, chief conservation officer at World Wildlife Fund-US, said in a statement. "We need to shut off the faucet of plastic that is leaking into our environment."
The report said tougher regulations are needed on plastics producers because they are generally not responsible for their products after they are sold, either in disposal or in the impact of production.
"Plastic producers are not held accountable for the negative impacts of production, as the market price of virgin plastic today does not represent its full life cycle costs to nature and society," the report said. "In the United States, China and Europe, petrochemical production is not deemed sufficiently energy intensive and is exempt from carbon regulation."
It said China's ban on plastic scrap imports has highlighted a "fragile global waste trade system" and has increased pressure on countries around the world to step up their domestic recycling.
It noted that China previously took two-thirds of the global trade in plastic scrap and estimated that its new import policies will displace 111 million tonnes of plastic waste by 2030 that the country would have taken in, absent its ban.
"Unless plastic exporters heighten their contamination standards, or countries invest in their own recycling capacity, the international plastics trade will remain fragile, and will risk exacerbating the damage that plastics have on the environment," the report said.
WWF calculated that as much plastic has been made worldwide since 2000 as in the decades before, as the relatively new industry has grown quickly.