The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, the industry's $1.5 billion effort to make a dent on ocean pollution, doesn't see much cause for optimism about tackling the problem anytime soon.
"When you look at the plastics waste situation globally today, the picture is bad and it's getting worse," said Justin Wood, vice president of strategic partnerships for the alliance. "We have a very bad situation today and when you look at the future, the outlook is for it to get significantly worse."
Wood spoke on a virtual panel March 3 at the World Ocean Summit, where he said growing global population and an expanding middle class will lead to more plastic use.
Citing studies, he told the forum that plastic production is expected to double by 2040, but with much of the new use coming in countries without the infrastructure to control that waste well, the amount of plastic in the ocean will triple in the same period, Wood said.
Those aren't new conclusions in the waste debate, but it was a sober message coming from a senior executive in the alliance, which was launched by plastics and consumer goods firms two years ago to try to finance solutions in developing countries.
Wood said it's not all about waste management in developing countries, though. He called on global consumer goods companies to strengthen previous commitments to use more recycled plastic.
The alliance analyzed pledges from consumer goods makers who have committed to use a lot more recycled plastic in the next few years, but Wood said they found most aren't going to meet those promises.
"By 2025, the sample of consumer goods companies were pledging to have one-quarter of their packaging made from recycled materials," Wood said. "Today, it's only 2 percent of their packaging. There's a gap of 23 percent that needs to be closed in 4.5 years. … There's just no way that's going to happen.
"The pledges don't go far enough, but even the pledges that have been made are likely to be unmet," he said.
A report from the Pew Charitable Trust in 2020, Breaking the Plastic Wave, estimated that all of the major business and government commitments to reduce plastic waste would only shrink flows into the ocean by 7 percent annually by 2040.