Plastic Mythbusters

Is it true that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean?

Pobably False Button

This claim is probably false. The authors of this statement extrapolated and interpreted existing research in a way which was misleading. We do not know how much plastic is currently in the ocean. There is no scientific estimate for how much plastic will be in the ocean by 2050. It is also unclear how much fish will inhabit the ocean by 2050. This claim thus remains highly speculative.

Detailed information

The statement continues to be repeated widely in the media, social networks as well as by sources with high authority including policy makers and environmental organisations. This seems surprising, given that several fact checks have shown that the claim has no credible scientific basis.

Following the publication of this claim by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, the statement that plastic is projected to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050 was debunked.

In 2016, Leo Hornak of the BBC wrote an excellent fact check. He contacted the scientists whose research supposedly supported the claim. However, the researchers stated that their results did not support such a conclusion on the grounds that it was not robust science to extrapolate the estimate for plastics to 2050, and the data for fish stocks was outdated.

After the BBC, several other media outlets also published fact checks which debunked the statement. However, it continues to circulate.

Expert check

Thanks to Edward J. Carpenter of San Francisco State University for scientific fact-checking.

Updated on: October 13, 2023