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The Editors

As Plastic Chokes the Ocean, Technology Can Help

The dangers of excessive plastic — from harming wildlife to worsening climate change — are acute. Policy makers need a bold response.

Clean-up time.

Clean-up time.

Photographer: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Some 8 million metric tons of plastic debris end up in the ocean each year, the equivalent of a garbage truck every minute. At the current pace, the seas may have more plastic than fish by the middle of the century. An international treaty to tackle this mess, which states at the United Nations’ Environment Assembly this week have agreed to hammer out, is welcome — but companies and policy makers shouldn’t wait to start addressing the crisis head on.

As things stand, the picture is grim. Consumers buy a million plastic drinking bottles a minute and use trillions of plastic bags every year, not to mention an immense amount of polyester and other synthetic textiles. Less than a tenth of all that material is recycled. Companies and governments have promised to cut back and reuse more, but even if those targets were met, they’d only reduce the plastic flowing into the ocean by 7% by 2040.