Global plastics production has grown significantly in recent decades. Highly versatile, light and affordable, plastic materials are employed in countless industrial applications and have become extremely useful for modern society. They help us preserve food, insulate buildings, make electronics work and increase the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, among other things. Yet, the sheer magnitude of our societies’ consumption of plastics bears important drawbacks. Plastics use results in a high production-related carbon footprint, high volumes of waste, persistent pollution and harm to wildlife and ecosystems when leakage to the environment occurs, and considerable socio-economic costs due to the negative impacts of plastic litter on tourism and fisheries.
In recent years, the growing awareness of plastic pollution has alerted public opinion and paved the way for stronger policy intervention on this front. Many OECD countries and emerging economies have been implementing policies that specifically aim to reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with different stages of the plastics lifecycle. In addition, global fora like the G7 and the G20 as well as the United Nations Environment Assembly are increasingly focusing on marine litter and plastic pollution. The Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options seeks to inform and support these efforts. This is the first report to comprehensively take stock of current plastics production, use and waste generation, uncover the underlying economic drivers and map the related environmental impacts on a global level. 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 co-operation, including international financing. Our findings point to the need for a whole of life-cycle approach requiring policy interventions both downstream of the value chain, such as end-of-life management, and upstream, like product design, for an effective policy mix.
The Outlook can help decision-makers understand the direction in which we are heading and help to assess which policies can support a more sustainable and circular management of plastic materials. 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. As the challenges associated with plastics production, namely growing leakage and greenhouse gas emissions, are transboundary in nature, it will also be crucial that countries respond to the challenge with coordinated and global solutions.
Mathias Cormann Secretary-General, OECD
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