Response needed to plastic waste leakage ‘crisis’

Recycling initiatives in five Asian countries could reduce global plastic waste leakage by 45 per cent, according to a recent report.

Eighty per cent of the eight million tonnes of plastic that leak into the ocean every year come from land-based sources, as opposed to ocean sources such as fisheries, according to ‘Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean’,

The report was produced via a collaboration between the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment and the Ocean Conservancy and sought to establish ways to reduce the amount of plastic waste reaching the ocean, which it said had reached ‘crisis levels’.

It identifies sources of plastic waste and determined that a collective response from five Asian countries, which it says are responsible for 55-60 percent of total plastic leakage, could effectively halve the amount of plastic leaking into the ocean.

‘One tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish’

Response needed to plastic waste leakage ‘crisis’
The front page of the 'Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean' report
Contamination of the ocean by unmanaged waste, referred to as plastic waste leakage, is worsened by the longevity and volume of plastic used globally.

Three quarters of land-sourced plastic in the ocean comes from uncollected waste while the rest leaks from the waste management system itself. If current trends continue, the report suggests, plastic waste could double to 250 million tonnes by 2025. 

This is the equivalent of one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish and is in agreement with an article published in Science earlier this year, which implied waste water management infrastructure improvements were necessary to curb plastic waste leakage.

The McKinsey report, an initiative of Trash Free Seas Alliance, states that introducing recycling initiatives in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam would reduce leakage by 65 per cent which would lead to an overall reduction of 45 per cent of plastic waste leakage.

It is suggested that this could be managed through closing leakage points within collection systems, increasing waste collection and manual sorting of high-value plastic waste and also using new technologies in waste treatment processes.


The report identified six key measures to stop plastic leaking into the ocean:

  • obtaining real and meaningful commitments from national governments, governors, and mayors to set and achieve ambitious waste management targets;
  • providing local ‘proofs of concept’ for integrated waste-management approaches in a number of carefully selected pilot cities;
  • building a best-practice transfer mechanism of global expertise to high-priority cities;
  • ensuring required project-investment conditions are in place.
  • facilitating technology implementation by equipping technology providers with detailed data; and
  • bringing leadership and a strategic focus on solutions as part of the global policy agenda on the ocean.

The estimated cost of implementing the above measures is approximately US$5 billion (£3.3 billion) per year with a significant proportion of this figure already covered by existing waste-management plans. The deficit could be funded by public, private and multilateral sectors, according to the report.

Waste Free Oceans (WFO), a public-private foundation committed to reducing plastic on coastlines, in seas and in waterways, believes additional measures are also required. 

The disposal of marine litter collected at sea is not currently free of charge at EU ports. This, says the WFO, provides a disincentive to fight the marine litter problem. It suggests that improving facilities for disposing of such waste would act as an incentive to fight marine litter problems.

The full ‘Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean’ report is available at the Ocean Conservancy website.

Read more about the problem of oceanic plastic in Resource’s feature article.

Related Articles