The plastic pollution that end up in the Earth's oceans is costing world governments as much as $2.5 trillion a year.
Much has been said about the adverse effects of marine pollution on animals and the environment, but there have not been enough research exploring its impact on the economy and human society as a whole.
In a study featured in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, researchers looked at the how garbage that end up in the oceans directly affect people's lives. They focused on the marine ecosystem value, which refers to how much society benefits from using these bodies of water.
Plastic Pollution In The World's Oceans
Results revealed that the world is losing 1 to 5 percent of its marine ecosystem value because of ocean plastic pollution. This translates to trillions of dollars in losses for societies that depend on oceans for various enterprises.
Plastic pollution is also lowering environmental values by $33,000 for every ton. The figure is very alarming, considering as much as 8 million tons of the garbage are making their way to the world's oceans annually.
"Our calculations are a first stab at 'putting a price on plastic'," said Nicola Beaumont, environmental economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and lead investigator of the study.
"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."
The researchers clarified that their estimations do not include the potential impacts of marine plastic pollution on industries such as fisheries, transport, and tourism, as well as on human health.
Plastic waste is fast becoming a primary concern for world governments. The pollution can now be found in almost all corners of the globe, from heavily populated coastline cities to remote villages.
These ocean garbage are making life more miserable for creatures that rely on oceans such as fish, turtles, invertebrates, zooplankton, some mammals, and even birds.
Tangible And Intangible Costs Of Marine Plastic Waste
The study found that some plastics have also eventually become new forms of habitats for algae and bacteria. The rapid growth of such colonies has helped broaden the biogeographical range of these microorganisms, greatly increasing the risk for spreading infectious diseases and invasive species throughout the world.
Study co-author Kayleigh Wyles said their work is the first of its kind to portray the "holistic" effect of plastic pollution. Not only does it show how such wastes can devastate the ecological and marine systems of the world, but it can also impact human society in different ways.
By quantifying the tangible and intangible costs of marine plastic pollution, Wyles believes it can lead to more people devoting more efforts and resources to protecting the environment for the next generation.
The researchers are also hoping that their research would help world leaders make informed decisions and streamline services specifically designed at eliminating plastic waste from the oceans.
Beaumont compared the hundreds of dollars that it would take to recycle plastic to the thousands of dollars it would cost if such garbage is allowed to destroy marine environments.
She said people should be able to address the issue of ocean plastic pollution, the same way they have found a way to trade carbon to lower emission in the Earth's atmosphere.
"We hope this study will highlight the reality of the plastic problem in human terms," Beaumont noted.