Plastic pollution on the rise

Daniel Norjidi

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released its first global outlook on plastics, revealing that the world is producing twice as much plastic waste as two decades ago, with most of it ending up in landfills, being incinerated or leaking. in the environment; and only nine percent recycled.

Published on February 22, the Global Plastics Outlook aims to inform and support policy efforts to tackle plastic leakage. The report quantifies current production, use, disposal and key environmental impacts across the life cycle of plastics and identifies opportunities to reduce negative externalities. It also investigates how plastic use and waste has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across all sectors and regions.

According to an OECD press release, the report shows that while rising populations and incomes drive a relentless increase in the amount of plastic used and thrown away, policies to limit its leakage into the environment are insufficient.

“Almost half of all plastic waste is generated in OECD countries. Plastic waste generated annually per person ranges from 221 kilograms (kg) in the United States (US) and 114 kg in European OECD countries to 69 kg, on average, for Japan and Korea.

“Most plastic pollution comes from improper collection and disposal of larger plastic debris called macroplastics, but leakage of microplastics (synthetic polymers less than five millimeters in diameter) from items such as pellets industrial plastics, synthetic textiles, road markings and tire wear are also a serious concern.

“OECD countries are the source of 14% of global leakage and 35% of microplastic leakage. Within this, OECD countries account for 11% of macroplastic leakage and 35% of microplastic leakage,” the statement said, adding that international cooperation on reducing plastic pollution should include support for countries with low income in the development of better waste management infrastructures to reduce their consumption. plastic leak.

The report also revealed that the COVID-19 crisis led to a 2.2% decrease in the use of plastics in 2020 as economic activity slowed, but an increase in waste, take-out food packaging and plastic medical equipment such as masks has led to increased waste. As economic activity picks up in 2021, plastics consumption has also rebounded.

“Reducing plastic pollution will require action and international cooperation to reduce plastic production, including through innovation, better product design and the development of environmentally friendly alternatives, as well as efforts to improve waste management and increase recycling,” the statement said. “Bans and taxes on single-use plastics exist in more than 120 countries, but are not enough to reduce global pollution. Most regulations are limited to items like plastic bags, which represent a tiny fraction of plastic waste, and are more effective at reducing waste than reducing plastic consumption. Landfill and incineration taxes that encourage recycling only exist in a minority of countries.

The report calls for greater use of instruments, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for packaging and durable goods, landfill taxes, deposit-refund and pay-as-you-go systems.

“Most of the plastics used today are virgin or primary plastics, made from crude oil or gas.

Global production of plastics from recycled – or secondary – plastics has more than quadrupled, from 6.8 million tonnes (Mt) in 2000 to 29.1 Mt in 2019, but this still represents only 6% of the size of total plastics production.

The release says more needs to be done to create a separate and functioning market for recycled plastics, which are still seen as substitutes for virgin plastic.

It also suggests that setting recycled content targets and investing in improved recycling technologies could help make secondary markets more competitive and profitable.

In the preface, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “This is the first report to provide a comprehensive review of today’s production, use and waste generation of plastics, uncover the underlying economic drivers and map related environmental impacts globally.

“The report also presents four key levers that are essential to bend the plastic curve: markets for recycled (secondary) plastics, technological innovation in plastics, domestic policy measures and international cooperation, including international financing. . Our findings underscore the need for a comprehensive life cycle approach requiring policy interventions both downstream in the value chain, such as end-of-life management, and upstream, such as product design, for a effective policy mix.

“The Outlook can help decision makers understand the direction in which we are headed and assess which policies can support more sustainable and circular management of plastics.

“The OECD stands ready to help governments make this transition by designing, developing and implementing better policies to eliminate the negative environmental impacts of plastics production and ultimately achieve plastic-free oceans and rivers. for future generations.”

“As the challenges associated with the production of plastics, namely increased leakage and greenhouse gas emissions, are cross-border in nature, it will also be crucial that countries respond to the challenge with coordinated and global solutions. “

The OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies aimed at preserving individual freedom and improving the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

Bryce K. Locke