International study urges countries to reduce plastic pollution

(FILE) Waters around Molokai (foreground), Maui (left in the background), and Lanai Islands form one of the 14 National Marine Sanctuaries managed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which constantly monitors levels of microplastics that may infiltrate marine habitats and the food chain. (Photo by Alfred Acenas, EBC Hawaii Bureau, Eagle News Service)


HONOLULU (Eagle News) – An international study recently published in “Science” Magazine managed by the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)  determined that, even with multilevel mitigation strategies in place to combat plastic pollution, extraordinary efforts need to be exerted to reduce plastic emissions by 2030.

The study entitled, “Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution” was conducted by a team which included Megan Barnes and Jeremy Ringma, former postdoctoral researchers in the Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM) department of the University of Hawaii’s (UH) College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The team assessed the impact of three broad management strategies: (1) plastic waste reduction, (2) waste management, and (3) environmental recovery, at different levels of effort to estimate plastic emissions by 2030 for 173 countries. Barnes and her colleagues estimate that 19.3 to 23.4 million metric tons, or 11%, of plastic waste generated globally in 2016 entered aquatic ecosystems.

Even considering the commitments by governments to control their pollution, annual emissions may still reach up to 53 million metric tons per year by 2030.

“As a cross boundary issue, it can seem really daunting, but there are solutions at all levels of government in every country, that every business can implement, and that each person can support in their personal decisions, and by talking to their own communities and representatives,” said Barnes. “The work really pointed out that no one solution is a silver bullet.”

She also emphasized that what is really scary is the huge volume of plastic that will continue to leak into the ocean even if ambitious targets are met.

Having resided in Hawaii and seeing first-hand the global impacts of plastic on local shores, Barnes decided to utilize her education and skills towards making a difference in the global challenge of plastic pollution.

“To stem the tide of plastic, we need structural and individual changes to reduce consumption, economic transformation to place greater emphasis on waste recovery, low leakage waste management that doesn’t impact other important environmental goals such as climate change, and broad scale innovation in clean up solutions,” Barnes emphasized. “Even if we do everything else perfectly, even a small proportion of the plastic waste we create results is large amounts of plastic in the ocean, so innovative solutions are needed in all parts of the plastic waste pipeline.”

(With reports from EBC Hawaii Bureau, Eagle News Service)