In 2030, pieces of plastic will still wash up on beaches - but it could be much less if the country acts now.
The prediction comes from a "sobering" new report on the state of New Zealand's plastic waste, which says big changes are needed to put a lid on the problem.
Modern life means convenience, but with convenience comes rubbish - takeaway cups, packets, bags, piles of plastic waste will be our legacy.
Scion chief innovation and science officer Dr Elspeth MacRae, who was on the report's panel, said it was a call to "invest in our own future".
The report, Rethinking Plastic, from the Prime Minister's science adviser demands action, including a national plan, better plastic data collection and Kiwis using less plastic overall.
In 2030, it says New Zealand could have onshore recycling for its own plastic, instead of shipping it all overseas.
It paints an image of a plastic-controlled environment - ecotourism at clean beaches, with container refund machines and recycling bins at the ready. The dream includes fisheries using new materials and methods to reduce their waste.
By then, everyone would carry a reusable container, and they'd be made in NZ, exported all around the world, and WINZ would provide them for everyone on a benefit, the report said.
Parcels could travel in "reusable pods", wrappers could be replaced by compostable plastic, and landfills could be mined for plastic to provide materials for roads and buildings.
The current reality of plastic is very different - right now, many landfills around New Zealand are reaching capacity.
In March, an old landfill in the West Coast burst open, washing hazardous waste downstream and into the Cook/Weheka River where it was deposited along the river bed and the coast.
The rubbish spread for about 300km over West Coast beaches, and some of the clean up was too toxic for volunteers.
The report warns all existing landfills are a potential source of plastic leakage.
"Approximately 100 landfills around the country are compromised or going to be in the near future," the report said.
The disaster prompted a multi-agency response to identify risks from old landfills.
"Just because waste is 'out of sight' in a landfill doesn't mean it has necessarily reached its end-of-life."
New Zealanders are contributing significantly to the global issue, the report said.
According to the World Bank's 2018 global review of solid waste management, New Zealand is one of the most wasteful nations in the developed world.
New Zealand was slow to create its own system, and that came to light in 2017 when China stopped accepting New Zealand's recycling.
The report predicts that by 2030, 111 million tonnes of plastic waste would be displaced by China's policy.
Currently, most of New Zealand's recycling waste is sent to South-east Asia.
"Lower-income countries are becoming the dumping grounds for low-quality contaminated waste from higher-income countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand."
Sending our plastic waste overseas is not sustainable, the report said.
Legislation to ban imports of plastic waste, and a consensus to place further controls on exports would limit what can be dumped overseas.
An average person could be eating approximately five grams of plastic every week - the size of a credit card.
"Sources of ingestion identified in the study included drinking water, shellfish, beer and salt."
Research from the University of Auckland found that 33 out of 34 commercial fish species had evidently ingested plastic in the South Pacific, including Auckland.
Tiny pieces of plastic can enter our bodies from a range of products, including the humble teabag.
But scientists don't yet know how microplastics will affect ecosystems, and they know even less about even smaller plastic particles, called nanoplastics.
There is new evidence that the environment established by microbes on microplastics could be a breeding ground to support the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
In New Zealand, antimicrobial resistance is considered an imminent threat already, the report said.
MacRae said the Government could be kickstarting change, including offering security to businesses redesigning their products to use renewable resources.
Scion science leader Dr Florian Graichen said the report described the "sobering" state of the country's plastic use.
"It is an encouraging call for action and blueprint for a sustainable future."
It was also important to accept plastic's place in the world, Graichen said.
"No single solution will resolve the waste issue – but this challenge comes with opportunities for shaping a more sustainable future and rethinking plastics."
ESR senior scientist Dr Olga Pantos said the positives of plastic - its strength, low weight and durability - made it an integral part of everyday life.
But everyday use of plastic needed to be cut down, she said.