Policy Update

First in Science: The Economic Impacts of Plastic Pollution

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National

NCEL Point of Contact

Yinka N. Bode-George
Environmental Health Manager

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It’s not just the environment hurting from plastic pollution
Up to $2.5 trillion is lost each year due to marine plastic pollution

Research continues to uncover the growing threats from plastic pollution. A new study is the first study to measure the economic impact marine plastic pollution has on ecosystem services.

The Study: Researchers analyzed the impacts of plastic pollution on three critical ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect benefits ecosystems provide us.

  1. Provision of fisheries, aquaculture, and materials for agricultural use: Fish are ingesting more plastic pollution. More research is needed on the human health impacts, however, the perceived threat of plastic infested seafood could harm fisheries. 
  2. Heritage: Certain “charismatic” animals, such as turtles and whales, hold cultural or emotional importance. Seeing these animals suffer from plastic pollution can have detrimental impacts on human wellbeing. 
  3. Experiential recreation: People are less inclined to spend time in areas with litter. As a result, littered beaches experience increased clean-up expenses and decreased tourism revenues. Decreased recreation also causes a range of physical and mental costs.

Results: Researchers estimate a loss of 1-5% in marine ecosystem services as a result of plastic pollution. This reduction equals a loss of about $500 billion to $2.5 trillion per year. That’s about $33,000 per metric ton of plastic pollution. To help reduce the impacts of plastic pollution, the researchers suggest implementing a “social cost of plastic” to help accurately reflect their impacts on society and the economy.

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