Will innovation solve the global plastic contamination: how much innovation is needed for that? - Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Access content directly
Preprints, Working Papers, ... Year : 2018

Will innovation solve the global plastic contamination: how much innovation is needed for that?


Plastics have become increasingly dominant in the consumer marketplace since their commercial development in the 1930s and 1940s. Global plastic production reached 335 million tons in 2016, a 640% increase since 1975. In 1960, plastics made up less than 1% of municipal solid waste by mass in the United States. By 2000, this proportion increased by one order of magnitude. As a result, plastic contamination is found everywhere in the world’s oceans, coastal areas, freshwater bodies and terrestrial environments. Plastics in the marine environment are of increasing concern because of their persistence and effects on the oceans, wildlife, and, potentially, humans. A report by the MacArthur Foundation published in 2016 claimed that innovation can solve the plastic problem. However, it does not say how much innovation is needed and does not analyse if it is feasible. In this working paper, we propose to bring about answers to this question by developing an ecological-economic world model that simulates plastic waste emission by human activities, transport from land to the ocean and accumulation into the marine ecosystem. Innovations will be simulated in an economic sub-model integrated to the ecological-economic world model as one of its components. The model, in its current development stage, is capable of quantifying the impacts of innovations on the total amount of plastics accumulated in the ocean at the world scale. The ecological-economic world model is designed in Powersim following system dynamics programming. In a further work, the economic sub-model will be designed in Excel Following input-output matrix equations. Our preliminary results suggest that to reach a significant abatement of plastic in the global ocean, a panel of diverse types of solutions is required. One type of environmental measure alone will not succeed. Upstream and downstream solutions must be combined: (i) across the social-ecological system, that is, “at-the-source” but also “middle” and “end-of-pipe” solutions; (ii) as well as across the plastic contamination causal chain as well, that is, “preventive” but also “curative” solutions. Only combined solutions succeed to reduce the amount of plastic stock accumulated in the oceans since the 1950’s to the level of 2010. Our model suggests that solutions which would be able to go further and reduce plastic stocks to 50% of 2010’s level would require intense ocean cleanup. To achieve such an ambitious environmental target, 11.89% of total plastic wastes should be removed from the ocean every year between 2020 and 2030. The technical feasibility of such a solution is highly questionable knowing that current technologies remove only floating plastic at the surface of the water and that such floating plastic represent a very small percentage of all plastics accumulated in the global ocean at the surface of the water, in the water column and deposited on the seabed.

Dates and versions

hal-04437786 , version 1 (05-02-2024)



Mateo Cordier, Takuro Uehara. Will innovation solve the global plastic contamination: how much innovation is needed for that?. 2024. ⟨hal-04437786⟩
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