Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans costs society billions of dollars every year in damaged and lost resources, research has found.
Fisheries, aquaculture, recreational activities and global wellbeing are all negatively affected by plastic pollution, with an estimated 1-5% decline in the benefit humans derive from oceans.
The resulting cost in such benefits, known as marine ecosystem value, is up to $2.5tn (£1.9tn) a year, according to a study published this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Dr Nicola Beaumont, an environmental economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study, said the investigation was the first of its kind to explore the social and economic impact of plastics in the sea.
“Our calculations are a first stab at ‘putting a price on plastic’. We know we have to do more research to refine, but we are convinced that already they are an underestimate of the real costs to global human society,” said Beaumont.
The estimates do not take into account the direct and indirect impacts on the tourism, transport and fisheries industries, or on human health, the authors warned.
Beaumont said she hoped the study would streamline services to address plastic pollution and “help us make informed decisions”.
“Recycling a ton of plastic costs us hundreds against the costs of thousands if we let it into the marine environment,” she said.
“We now trade carbon to reduce emissions to the atmosphere, so we should be able to do something similar with plastics. We hope this study will highlight the reality of the plastic problem in human terms.”
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