Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans costs up to $2.5 billion (£1.9bn) a year in damaged and lost resources.
That’s according to a new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, which suggests industries such as fishing, aquaculture and recreation, as well as global wellbeing in general, are all negatively affected by bottles, bags, fibres and other forms of plastic entering marine environments.
The report suggests this pollution could be responsible for the benefit humans can gain from oceans falling by 5% and could cost up to $33,000 (£25,000) per tonne in reduced environmental value.
The estimates do not take into account the impacts on sectors such as tourism and transport or the related damage to human health.
An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic pollution enter the world’s oceans every year – researchers say due to its buoyant properties, it can float as far as 3,000 kilometres from its origin, spreading bacteria and algae and in doing so, carrying invasive species and disease.
Dr Nicola Beaumont, Environmental Economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study, said: “Recycling a tonne of plastic costs us hundreds against the costs of thousands if we let it into the marine environment.
“We now trade carbon to reduce emissions to the atmosphere, so we should be able to do something similar with plastics. We hope this study will highlight the reality of the plastic problem in human terms.”