IEA: Ocean Plastic Waste May Double by 2030

Plastic waste in Manila Bay (file image courtesy Daniel Muller / Greenpeace)

Published Oct 5, 2018 6:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a market analysis released Friday, the International Energy Agency predicts that the petchem industry will create almost half the growth in world oil demand between 2018 and 2050, adding nearly seven million barrels of consumption per day. Plastics are the primary constituent of this demand growth, thanks in large part to exploding consumption in developing nations - and this has serious implications for the ocean environment. 

According to the IEA, about 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean derives from land-based sources, and more than 40 percent comes from five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. With demand for plastics in developing nations accelerating, this means that the accumulation of ocean plastics will also pick up pace, IEA warns. 

"If no action is taken, the current rate of plastic waste leakage [into the ocean] is likely to result in more than a doubling of cumulative plastic waste in the oceans by 2030, and a continuing rise thereafter. This is a starkly unacceptable feature of the [baseline scenario]," IEA's analysts wrote. "Without ambitious action being taken globally, particularly in regions in which plastic demand is growing rapidly, current trends of plastic leakage are unlikely even to slow, let alone reverse."

IEA / Jambeck, J.R. et al. (2015), “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”

By 2050, the quantity of plastic in the ocean would exceed 500 million tonnes in the baseline scenario, five times the present amount (above).

Separately, petchem CO2 emissions are expected to rise from 1.5 gigatons per year in 2017 to about 1.9 gigatons per year in 2050. This increase is equal to about 50 percent of the shipping industry's annual CO2 emissions. 

“Petrochemicals are one of the key blind spots in the global energy debate, especially given the influence they will exert on future energy trends. In fact, our analysis shows they will have a greater influence on the future of oil demand than cars, trucks and aviation," said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, in a statement Friday.