A new report from the OECD outlines the world’s current plastic use trajectory, arriving at the stark conclusion that our rate of plastic waste will nearly triple by 2060 if no intervening action is taken. The report, titled Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060, is set to be released in full on June 21, 2022.
Highlights of the report have been pre-released and include three different scenarios of future forecasting: a baseline scenario with no major changes, a “regional action” policy scenario, and a “global ambition” policy scenario.
Under the baseline scenario of forecasting, plastics use is projected to grow from 460 million tons (Mt) in 2019, to 1,231 Mt in 2060. Meanwhile, plastic waste is set to expand from 353 Mt to 1,014 Mt in the same time frame.
Those numbers are hard to wrap your head around. What does one million tons of plastic waste even look like?
Let’s do some math and find out.
A standard plastic container for takeout food weighs about 25 grams, and there are about 450 grams in one pound. Quick math, how many takeout containers in one pound? Right. That’s eighteen takeout containers in one pound.
2,000 pounds in a ton means there are 36,000 takeout containers in one ton. That means 36 billion takeout containers in one million tons. Still with me?
In 2019, there were 353 Mt of plastic waste; that’s 12.7 trillion takeout containers. Woah. Bear in mind as well that a lot of plastic waste comes in much smaller forms like straws, cutlery, cups, and bottles. The moral of the calculation is that we have a serious plastic waste problem.
The report notes an expected tripling of our plastic waste by 2060. So, what can we do?
The report channels its recommendations into four key areas. It advocates for economic incentives to grow the recycled plastics market, boosting innovation for a more circular lifecycle, strengthening domestic policies, and strengthening international cooperation.
Of the plastic waste generated, only 15 percent of it is collected for recycling, but a big chunk of that ends up as recycling residue that still needs disposal. Thus, only 9 percent of all plastic waste in 2019 ended up getting recycled. As it stands, recycled plastics only make up 6 percent of the total plastic feedstock.
The recommendations of the report focus on pushing governments and international organizations to enact policies and legislations that can help reduce plastic use, and ultimately, plastic waste. Plastic waste poses a large threat to our natural environments.
In 2019, 6.1 Mt of plastic waste ended up in rivers, lakes, and oceans (we’ll save you the heartbreaking photo of marine life impaired by plastic pollution). But plastic harms extend beyond surface-level damage.
The production of plastic also takes a toll on the atmosphere, with most plastics being made from fossil fuels. Plastics generated 3.4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
However, the announcement leaves a lot left to be desired. The ban will not come into effect until 2032, and it will only cover national parks and other public lands. Surely, this will not satisfy the authors of the OECD report, nor should it satisfy the general public. The announcement is a far cry from concrete action that’s being taken in other countries.
Australia has outlawed all single-use plastic bags, with some states banning other single-use plastics as well.
China has a ban on plastic straws and plastic bags that started on January 1, 2021.
India is beginning a nationwide ban on single-use plastics July 1. Canada has a plastics ban expected to come into force in late 2022. Scotland’s plastic ban came into effect on June 1, 2022, banning almost all single-use plastics.
Major economies around the world are moving to outlaw the use of single-use plastics, but the world’s largest culprit of plastic waste, the U.S., is dragging its feet on the matter.
While we wait for more robust government legislation, we could all cut back on our own plastic use in an effort to reduce the 12.7 trillion takeout containers worth of plastic waste produced each year.
Image credit: Pixabay
Andrew Kaminsky is a freelance writer with no fixed location. He travels all corners of the globe learning about the different groups that call this planet home, seeing natural wonders, and sharing laughs with the people he finds along the way. An alum of the University of Winnipeg's International Development program, Andrew is particularly interested in international relations and sustainable development. In his spare time you are likely to find Andrew engaging in anything sport-related, or finding common ground with new friends over a craft beer.