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759. Plastic Pollution, a Borderless Challenge

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759. Plastic Pollution, a Borderless Challenge

Plastic products are inexpensive, lightweight, and durable, providing tremendous benefits to people's lives. Plastic bags and containers play an essential role in the food supply chain, contributing significantly to the reduction of food loss and waste.

On the other hand, environmental pollution from plastics is serious. According to the OECD, plastic production increased 230-fold from 2 million to 460 million tons per year in the nearly 70 years from 1950 to 2019. Between 2000 and 2019, plastic production doubled from 234 million tons to 460 million tons, and plastic waste doubled from 156 million tons in 2000 to 353 million tons in 2019. In 2019, only 15% of that was collected for recycling and 9% was actually recycled. In 2019, 22 million tons of plastic waste leaked into the environment, much of it (88%) being large plastics. About half of the plastic waste ended up in landfills, nearly one-fifth was incinerated, and around 22% was mismanaged – dumped or burned in unregulated sites. In 2019, 22 million tons of plastic waste leaked into the environment, most of which (88%) were large plastics, with microplastics (plastics smaller than 5 mm in diameter) accounting for a 12% share. As of 2019, an estimated 109 million tons of plastics had leaked into the environment and 30 million tons had accumulated in the ocean.

There are other challenges beyond disposal. The carbon footprint of plastics is also a major issue, contributing 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions over its life cycle. In 2019, plastics are estimated to have contributed 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (1.8 Gt CO2e) worth of greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that is projected to rise to 43 tons (4.3 Gt CO2e) by 2060. Other problems such as ozone formation, acidification, and the creation of toxic substances in humans are also projected to worsen throughout the lifecycle of plastics.

According to the OECD's Policy Scenarios to 2060 analysis, global plastic use is projected to triple from 460 million tons to 1.321 billion tons between 2019 and 2060, driven by global population growth and economic growth. While use is projected to increase in all countries, it is expected to double in OECD countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where economic and population growth is expected to be six times higher by 2060 than in 2019, and five times higher in India.

The analysis described the need for shared goals and coordination within the international community to eliminate plastic pollution and proposed the promotion of waste management and recycling by extending the lifecycle of plastic products through repair and reuse.

Plastic pollution is a transboundary problem, but remediation efforts require sustained policy support and significant investment. The cost burden is particularly high in developing countries, requiring cooperation between developed countries and international organizations.


OECD (2022) Global Plastics Outlook Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/global-plastics-outlook_dfe09…

OECD (2022) Global Plastics Outlook Policy Scenarios to 2060 https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/global-plastics-outlook_aa1ed…

Nature (2023) Three ways to solve the plastics pollution crisis. NEWS FEATURE
11 April 2023, by Diana Kwon. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-00975-5

Contributors: Solongo TUMUR and IIYAMA Miyuki (Information Program)