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Pollution: Plastic consumption could double by 2050

Plastic consumption in G20 countries could nearly double by mid-century unless a treaty is made for new global policies to reduce

By Ground report
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Pollution: Plastic consumption could double by 2050

Plastic consumption in G20 countries could nearly double by mid-century unless a treaty is made for new global policies to reduce its use, says research published Monday by the Back to Blue initiative.

The report, led by experts from Economist Impact and the Nippon Foundation, reveals that without any policy intervention to boost recycling or reduce single-use plastics, their consumption in G20 countries could rise to 451 million tonnes by 2050.

The report's editor, Gillian Parker, noted that plastics consumption is likely to increase in countries with the highest economic and population growth in the coming decades. 

And, although some countries have already decided to eliminate some single-use plastics, he warned that others "will have to really ask themselves what plastics are necessary" and evaluate what regulations will work best in their regions.

Last year, the UN began negotiations with 175 countries to develop a legally binding agreement to deal with contamination by this type of material. 

However, the study notes that only more ambitious policies than those being considered will have a significant impact.

Prohibition, taxes, collection

For the study, the researchers selected three policy approaches that are already being implemented to varying degrees globally and have reached the advanced stages of UN treaty negotiations.

The report analyzed which measure would be most effective to mitigate or stop the increase in consumption. The authors indicated the impacts of three scenarios. 

  • Ban on single-use plastic products – A mandatory ban on unnecessary and problematic plastics that have the potential to become litter.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes – Industry players bringing packaging to the market will be required to pay the cost of collection and processing after use, thus increasing recycling rates which will reduce the leakage of plastics into the environment.
  • Plastic tax on virgin resin production – An environmental tax would increase the cost of the main input, generating funds to scale up plastic waste management solutions.

According to Back to Blue, the combined proposed measures, which cover the entire life cycle of plastic from production to disposal, could limit annual consumption to 325 million tonnes by 2050, but it would still be a quarter more than in 2019, and the equivalent of 238 million full garbage trucks.

In this regard, the report insists on the need for bold and sweeping reforms, which are likely to face opposition from producers, retailers, industry bodies, consumer groups and others.

It also details that the G20 countries that have not yet introduced national bans on plastic products are: Brazil, the US, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Mexico and Argentina.

World Economic Forum reports say 655 million metric tons by 2050

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, global plastic production is expected to rise from 368 million metric tons in 2019 to 655 million metric tons by 2050.

There are several factors contributing to this increase, including population growth, urbanization, and rising living standards in developing countries.

As more people move into the middle class, demand for consumer goods like electronics, appliances, and cars is likely to increase, and many of these products are made of plastic.

In addition, the use of single-use plastic items such as disposable containers and cutlery is also increasing, especially in developing countries where waste management infrastructure is often limited.

This trend is expected to continue unless there are significant changes in consumer behaviour and government policies.

However, efforts are also being made to reduce plastic consumption and improve waste management. Many companies are developing more sustainable packaging options, and governments around the world are implementing policies to encourage recycling and reduce single-use plastics.

How effective these efforts will be in mitigating the projected increase in plastic consumption remains to be seen.

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