The quantity of plastic entering the world's oceans, already estimated to be 11 million tonnes every year, could triple in the next 20 years, alarming new research suggests.
The analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq finds that without immediate and sustained action, the colossal annual flow of plastic into the ocean could devastate ecosystems around the planet.
If nothing is done, the overall quantity of plastic pollution could reach 600 million tonnes by 2040 - the equivalent of more than three million blue whales, or representative of 50kg of plastic on each metre of coastline worldwide.
The issue is a colossal challenge, the study says, not least because due to the coronavirus pandemic, single-use plastic consumption has gone up.
The report reveals current commitments by governments and industry will only reduce the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean by 7pc by 2040.
"Without meaningful change, about four billion people worldwide are likely to be without organised waste collection services by 2040," the authors said.
But the report offers a glimmer of hope, as the authors of the study also identified solutions they say could cut the additional volume of plastic going into the oceans by more than 80pc by 2040.
* Reducing growth in plastic production and consumption;
* Substituting some plastics with alternatives such as paper and compostable materials;
* Designing products and packaging for recycling;
* Expanding waste collection rates in middle- and low-income countries;
* Increasing recycling;
* Reducing plastic waste exports.
In addition to improving ocean health, adopting these changes could generate savings of $70bn (€60bn) for governments by 2040, relative to business as usual, the report says.
Annual plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions would also be cut by 25pc, and more than 700,000 jobs could be created, the authors said.
Nonetheless, the report warns even reducing plastic waste by 80pc would "take an unprecedented level of action and will still leave more than five million metric tonnes leaking into the ocean each year in 2040".
"There's no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave," said Tom Dillon, Pew's vice president for environment.
"As this report shows, we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature."
Martin Stuchtey, Systemiq founder and managing partner, said: "Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation.
"'Breaking the Plastic Wave' leaves no viable excuse on the table. We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80pc. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so."
Louise Edge, senior campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "We all know we're using too much throwaway plastic, but this report demonstrates just how out of control our relationship with single-use plastic has become.
"Even if every pledge made by industry and governments around the world is met, there would only be a 7pc reduction in the plastic ending up in our oceans each year.
"Nature has been sounding the alarm on plastic pollution for years, but the action being promised still doesn't come close to matching the scale and urgency of the problem."