Author: Lauren Foye, Head of Reports at Zero Carbon Academy
Research by the OECD has found that plastic pollution continues to grow at pace, yet recycling and waste management schemes are falling short in addressing this rapidly growing environmental issue.
Source: New Indian Express
Plastic waste production has doubled in the past 20 years, yet just 9% is recycled successfully
The world is producing twice as much plastic waste as it was two decades ago, with the bulk of it ending up in landfill, incinerated or leaking into the environment, with only 9% successfully recycled. That was the headline finding from a major new research report into plastic pollution, undertaken by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). The Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options research used global, country and sector-level data to show how plastic production, use and waste has grown in recent decades. In terms of waste relating to the OECD’s 38 member countries, the report found that almost half of global plastic waste is generated by these countries:
“Plastic waste generated annually per person varies from 221 kg in the United States and 114 kg in European OECD countries to 69 kg, on average, for Japan and Korea. Most plastic pollution comes from inadequate collection and disposal of larger plastic debris known as macroplastics, but leakage of microplastics (synthetic polymers smaller than 5 mm in diameter) from things like industrial plastic pellets, synthetic textiles, road markings and tyre wear are also a serious concern.”[i]
Share of plastics treated by waste management category, after disposal of recycling residues and collected litter, 2019:
Bans & taxes on plastic not doing enough to combat waste
With the generation of plastic waste doubling from 2000 to 2019, the world is facing a monumental challenge to both reduce its dependency on the material and enact circularity to ensure plastic is reused. At present, almost two-thirds of plastic waste comes from plastics with lifetimes of under five years, with 40% coming from packaging, 12% from consumer goods and 11% from clothing and textile, according to the OECD. Concerningly it is reported that in 2019 alone, 6.1 million tonnes (Mt) of plastic waste leaked into aquatic environments and 1.7 Mt flowed into oceans. Further, there is now an estimated 30 Mt of plastic waste in seas and oceans, and a further 109 Mt has accumulated in rivers.
Yet, the OECD note that current regulation and taxation is not doing enough to combat the waste associated with plastic use. Whilst single-use plastic taxes and bans exist in more than 120 countries, these regulations are often limited to things such as plastic carrier bags, with bigger measures, such as landfill and incineration taxes only exist in a minority of countries.
“Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled (15% is collected for recycling but 40% of that is disposed of as residues). Another 19% is incinerated, 50% ends up in landfill and 22% evades waste management systems and goes into uncontrolled dumpsites, is burned in open pits or ends up in terrestrial or aquatic environments, especially in poorer countries.”[ii]
To combat this, the research suggested an international approach to waste management- using finance and aid to help developing nations address their waste infrastructure and bring it up to speed to address recycling needs and tackle plastic wastage. In addition, it recommends greater use of instruments such as Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for packaging and durables, landfill taxes, deposit-refund and Pay-as-You-Throw systems.
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