Recent research by the OECD has raised the alarming prospect of global plastic waste tripling between now and 2060, with almost a half ending up in landfills and less than a fifth recycled
Author: Lauren Foye, Head of Reports at Zero Carbon Academy
OECD warn that plastic usage set to continue to soar, with pollution rising in tandem
The OECD’s recent report “Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060” has discovered that radical action is required to prevent what it predicts will be rapid growth in plastic use. The research found that failure to curb demand, increase product lifespans, and improve waste management and recyclability, will result in plastic pollution rising in tandem with an almost threefold increase in plastics produced. The OECD projects that global plastics consumption will rise from 460 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019 to 1,231 Mt in 2060 should the world fail to introduce “bold new policies”. It also estimates that nearly two-thirds of plastic waste in 2060 will be from short-lived items such as packaging, low-cost products and textiles.
Further, it also finds that plastic leakage to the environment is projected to double to 44 million tonnes (Mt) a year, exacerbating environmental and health impacts, and stocks of accumulated plastics in rivers and oceans are projected to more than triple from 140 Mt in 2019 to 493 Mt in 2060. Microplastic leakage is projected to increase in all regions, highlighting the need for better mitigation solutions. The research has also analysed projected greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from plastic lifecycles, with these forecast to more than double, to 4.3 Gt CO2e.
“Ultimately, while projections to 2060 are subject to uncertainties, plastic leakage is a major environmental problem. Flows to the environment are getting larger, continuing to amplify stocks in the environment and the magnitude of risks for ecosystems and human health. In the absence of significantly more stringent, ambitious and coordinated action, the global community is far from achieving its long-term objective of ending plastic pollution.“[i]
Radical action required to address a surge in plastic waste
As OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann commented, significant change will be needed: “If we want a world that is free of plastic pollution, in line with the ambitions of the United Nations Environment Assembly, we will need to take much more stringent and globally co-ordinated action. This [latest] report proposes concrete policies that can be implemented along the lifecycle of plastics that could significantly curb – and even eliminate – plastic leakage into the environment.“[ii]
Figure 1: Combining policies that target different lifecycle stages can drastically reduce plastics leakage to the environment (Yearly value in million tonnes (Mt), percentage change compared to Baseline)
To prevent the predicted surge in plastic waste, the OECD calls for ‘radical action’, suggesting a range of policies to reduce the environmental impacts of plastics and encourage a more circular use; these include:
- Taxes on plastics, including on plastic packaging
- Incentives to reuse and repair plastic items
- Targets for recycled content in new plastic products
- Extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes
- Improved waste management infrastructure
- Increased litter collection rates
This recent research follows another OECD report published earlier this year (which we discussed in our blog: OECD: plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short). In that research piece, the OECD noted that regulation and taxation were not doing enough to combat the waste associated with plastic use and that while single-use plastic taxes and bans exist in more than 120 countries, these regulations were often limited to things such as plastic carrier bags, with bigger measures, such as landfill and incineration taxes only existing in a minority of countries. In this instance, the OECD also 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 recommended the 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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