Global marine plastic pollution, which is derived mainly from the input of vast amounts of land-based plastic waste, has drawn increasing public attention. Riverine plastic outflows estimated using models based on the concept of mismanaged plastic waste (MPW) are substantially greater than reported field measurements. Herein, we formulate a robust model using the Human Development Index (HDI) as the main predictor, and the modeled riverine plastic outflows are calibrated and validated by available field data. A strong correlation is achieved between model estimates and field measurements, with a regression coefficient of r(2) = 0.9. The model estimates that the global plastic outflows from 1518 main rivers were in the range of 57,000-265,000 (median: 134,000) MT year(-1) in 2018, which were approximately one-tenth of the estimates by MPW-based models. With increased plastic production and human development, the global riverine plastic outflow is projected to peak in 2028 in a modeled trajectory of 2010-2050. The HDI is a better indicator than MPW to estimate global riverine plastic outflows, and plastic pollution can be effectively assessed and contained during human development processes. The much lower global riverine plastic outflows should substantially ease the public’s concern about marine plastic pollution and financial pressure for remediation.