Plastics use and waste - Where do we stand?

 

Annual plastics production has more than doubled in the last two decades

Population growth and higher incomes are driving up global plastics production, which soared to 464 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019.

The share of the OECD in global consumption has been declining steadily from 87% in 1980 to 46% in 2019, while China’s share has increased to 21% of global annual consumption of plastics.

 

 

Covid has slightly slowed down the increase of plastics use in 2020, but 2021 has already seen a rebound to earlier growth rates

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had significant impacts on plastics use, including a rapid increase in demand for personal protective equipment (including facemasks), a shift from restaurant eating to take-away and a shift from in-store shopping to online retail. However, plastics use in industry and commercial sectors declined as firms faced lockdowns. On balance, plastics use is estimated to decline in 2020 by 2.5% compared to 2019 levels, but rebounded largely in 2021.



The growth in plastics use has intensified plastic waste generation and challenges related to waste management

Global plastic waste generation is increasing constantly and reached 360 Mt in 2019. More than two-thirds of total waste generated comes from applications with lifetimes below 5 years: packaging (42%), consumer products (12%) and textiles (11%).

Only 17% of plastic waste is collected for recycling, while 16% is incinerated and 45% goes to sanitary landfills. In 2019, a staggering 78 Mt of plastic waste were not captured by formal waste management systems, but are disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or lost to terrestrial and aquatic environments.



Throughout their lifecycle, plastics have a large carbon footprint and emit 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions

As of 2019, plastics generated 1.8 giga tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions or 3.4% of global emissions, with 90% coming from production and conversion from fossil fuels. Secondary plastics, that are produced from recycled end-of-life plastic items, can reduce the carbon footprint of plastics use, but they only account for 7% of the feedstock for new plastics produced globally.

 

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