The amount of plastic waste produced globally is on track to almost triple by 2060, with around half ending up in landfill and less than a fifth recycled, the OECD has forecast.
In a new report, the think tank explains how the increase will be driven by rising populations and incomes, with around two-thirds of plastic waste in 2060 set to come from short-lived items such as packaging, low-cost products and textiles.
Growth will be fastest in developing and emerging countries in Africa and Asia, although developed nations are still forecast to produce much more plastic waste per person.
The projected rise in consumption and waste comes despite an expected increase in the use of recycled plastic in manufacturing new goods, as well as technological advances and sectoral economic shifts.
Without radical action to curb demand, increase product lifespans and improve waste management and recyclability, the report forecasts plastics waste to grow from 353 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019 to 1,014 Mt in 2060.
“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,” said OECD secretary-general Mathias Cormann.
“This 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.”
Globally, plastic leakage to the environment is seen doubling to 44 Mt a year, while the build-up of plastics in lakes, rivers and oceans is forecast to more than triple.
However, the share of plastic waste that is successfully recycled is projected to rise to 17% in 2060 from 9% in 2019, while incineration and landfilling will continue to account for around 20% and 50% of plastic waste respectively.
The share of plastic that evades waste management systems – ending up instead in uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or leaking into the soil or aquatic environments – is forecast to fall to 15% from 22%.
To reduce the environmental impacts of plastics and encourage a more circular use of them, the report recommends:
- 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
“The OECD stands ready to assist governments in making this transition by designing, developing and delivering better policies to eliminate the negative environmental impacts of plastics production and ultimately achieve plastics-free oceans and rivers for future generations,” Cormann said.
“As the challenges associated with plastics production, namely growing leakage and greenhouse gas emissions, are trans-boundary in nature, it will also be crucial that countries respond to the challenge with co-ordinated and global solutions.”
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