Friday, July 10, 2020

The Costs of Plastic Pollution

The Price Tag of Plastic Pollution is an interactive map which shows the economic costs of all the plastic pollution which we are currently spilling into the world's oceans. There are many interactive maps which visualize the extent of plastic pollution in the world's oceans and where that pollution comes from. This map however is attempting to persuade governments and individuals around the world by highlighting the economic costs of that pollution on industries such as fishing and tourism.

The Ocean Cleanup worked with the auditing company Deloitte to assess the costs of plastic pollution to countries around the world. According to this study the total global yearly economic costs from marine plastic are between $6-19bn. These costs accrue from the impact of pollution on tourism & on the fishing industry and from efforts to clean and clear plastic pollution. If you click on a country on the Plastic Pollution world map you can view the costs to the government and to the fishing and tourism industries in your selected country.

The main purpose of the Price Tag of Plastic Pollution map is to demonstrate that it is far cheaper not to pollute our oceans with plastic in the first place than it is to clean them after they have been polluted. This is undoubtedly true but I do doubt whether many governments would be persuaded by this argument.

I assume the map is showing what the study predicts that countries and industries would need to pay to clean-up plastic pollution and not what they are already paying. I also assume that many governments would just ignore these clean-up costs. According to the map the United States has a cost of $76 million from plastic pollution. Unfortunately I suspect that the current U.S. administration would just argue that the government won't pay those costs - so they therefore aren't a real cost to the USA.

The costs to the fishing and tourism industries however could be a powerful lobbying argument if those industries had a real determination to try to make governments act to stop plastic pollution.

Litterbase is one organization attempting to collate the results of scientific studies researching the levels of plastic pollution found in the world's oceans. Currently Litterbase provides a summarized overview of the results from over 1,900 studies into the amount and composition of litter and its effect on marine environments. An example of one of these summaries is Distribution of Litter Types in Different Realms, which is an interactive map created from the results of 916 scientific publications on the amount, distribution and composition of litter in the world's oceans.

The map shows the results of hundreds of scientific studies carried out in specific locations around the world. It is not a heatmap of marine pollution around the world. It only shows the levels of pollution in the areas where studies have been carried out. However there are gaps in seas and oceans where little scientific research has taken place, for example around Africa and the Polar regions.

One way that we can fill in these gaps in our knowledge is by modeling the density of pollution in the oceans based on the results of scientific studies. Sailing Seas of Plastic is a dot density map which shows the estimated concentration of floating plastic in the oceans based on the results of 24 survey expeditions (2007-2013) and on wind and ocean drift models.

Each dot on the Sailing Seas of Plastic map represents 20 kg of floating plastic. According to the map there are 5,250 billion pieces of plastic adrift on the seas of the world.

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