Land-origin plastic costs economy $19 billion every year

26 November 2019 4 min. read
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Land-origin plastic costs the global economy up to $19 billion every year, according to new research. Asian countries account for 82% of global plastic waste coming from the land, with the economic impact of marine plastic pollution from these countries constituting 86% of the global costs estimated.

In order to evaluate the economic impacts of land sourced marine plastic pollution, Deloitte has consolidated worldwide data on marine litter – its characterisation, coastal population density, economic status, and direct and indirect impact – to develop a comprehensive database and a scalable assessment model to calculate the economic impact associated with marine plastic pollution to coastal communities. On top of the steep ecological price of current levels of pollution, Deloitte subsequently found plastic pollution could be resulting in an estimated economic loss of $19 billion for 87 coastal countries.

The biggest culprits of pollution were unsurprisingly found among the developing economies of Asia. Contributing 86% of the global cost associated with plastic pollution, Asia currently leaks more of the substance into waterways and oceans than any other continent. Europe meanwhile contributes a not-insignificant 24%. At the same time, the Middle East accounts for the lowest portion of clean-up cost associated with land-origin pollution, but has the highest level of economic value lost thanks to it.

Deloitte estimates that marine plastic pollution was by far the largest cost item, due to the price of its disposal. If the plastic waste in the rivers, ports and marinas had been fished out of the water and washed-up plastic had been removed from the beaches, the costs would have been between $ 5.6 and $ 15 billion. This is still extremely poor, but a notable improvement on $19 billion.

Extremely versatile, light and cost effective, plastic has become the packaging of choice across a wide range of industries around the world. However the material is also notoriously difficult to break down, and when it does, the issues caused by micro-plastics have increasingly hit ecosystems hard.

Mismanaged plastic waste that is discarded rather than being recycled, incinerated or stored in landfills, drains down rivers and waste water systems, before ultimately meeting its fate at the sea. Illustrating just how colossal this issue has become, one study performed by The Ocean Cleanup found that total global emissions of plastic waste total between 0.8-2.7 million metric tons every year.

Deloitte also found that plastic pollution leads to between $0.3 and $ 4.3 billion less revenue for the fishing and aquaculture sector, and a reduction in revenue of between $ 0.2 and 2.4 billion for the tourist trade. The latter is because marine pollution also results in loss of aesthetic value of the environment – an economic cost which also takes shape in the form of decreased real estate value of waterfront housing.

Meanwhile, plastic entering the ocean risks the extinction for species of marine animals and birds from ingestion of plastic debris, and a panoply of health concerns for humans who ingest fish filled with micro-plastics.

The broader price of plastic

While Deloitte’s estimated cost may seem high, the real price of plastic pollution is actually far higher. This is largely due to the fact that knock-on damage to ecosystems and the domino effects on human health are not yet included in the estimated costs. If nothing happens, the cost will rise in coming years, meaning that while many local and central governments may struggle to find the resources and funds necessary to support the level of service provision required to ensure that land based plastics are properly dealt with, international co-operation must step up to fill this void.