by IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub,

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published its second Global Plastics Outlook, which details policy scenarios and projections on plastics to 2060, including plastics use, waste, and environmental impacts linked to plastics, especially leakage into the environment. The Outlook aims to help policymakers understand the challenge of transitioning to more sustainable and circular plastics use and the need for additional policy action.

The report identifies and compares two scenarios – a regional action policy scenario and a global ambition policy scenario. In so doing, the report seeks to enhance understanding of policies needed for, and economic implications of, drastically reducing the environmental impacts of plastics, as well as the environmental benefits and economic consequences of adopting such policies. The report is based on the premise that business-as-usual is unsustainable, and that plastics production also has implications for climate change, given fossil fuel use in the production process. An additional scenario, which prioritizes climate change mitigation, looks at the implications of policies aimed at mitigating climate change and reducing plastics leakage.

According to the report, under business-as-usual, by 2060:

  • Plastics use could almost triple globally, driven by economic and population growth, with the largest increases expected in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia;
  • Plastic waste is projected to almost triple, with half of plastic waste still ending up in landfills and less than 20% recycled;
  • Primary plastics are expected to continue dominating, with recycled (secondary) plastics expected to increase more quickly than primary plastics, although still only making up 12% of all plastics; and
  • Plastic leakage to the environment could double to 44 million tonnes a year, while plastic build-up in aquatic environments will triple.

Due to the plastics production process, other environmental impacts through the plastics lifecycle are also projected to increase, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ozone formation, acidification, and human toxicity, all of which are projected to more than double.  

The ‘Regional Action’ policy scenario is based on policies to improve the circularity of plastics use and reduce the negative environmental impacts of plastics. It ensures continued economic growth while reducing plastic leakage, includes fiscal and regulatory policies targeting all phases of the plastics lifecycle, and is more ambitious for OECD countries than for non-OECD countries. 

The report finds that by 2060, the ‘Regional Action’ scenario could decrease plastic waste by almost 20% and plastic leakage by more than 50% through taxes on plastics use and packaging. Such taxes would restrict demand for and production of plastics, and global recycling would increase to 40%. Policies that increase demand for plastic scrap and boost the supply of recycled plastics would lead to an increased market share of secondary plastics from 12% to 29%. Mismanaged waste would decrease by more than 60%, falling below 2019 levels, due to better waste management systems in non-OECD countries. However, plastics use and waste would still more than double from 2019 levels. 

The ‘Global Ambition’ package could reduce plastics use and waste by more than 30% and almost eliminate plastic leakage by 2060. Waste and use reductions would mainly be realized through a plastics tax that increases to USD 750/tonne globally by 2030 and to USD 1,500/tonne by 2060, and a 33% higher tax on packaging. Recycling would increase to almost 60%, while the market share of secondary plastics would increase to 41% by 2060. Mismanaged waste would decrease to almost zero, leakage to the environment would decrease by 85%, and macroplastic leakage would almost completely disappear, including to aquatic environments. However, microplastic leakage would only decrease by 9%. This scenario is also projected to reduce GHG emissions.

Regarding costs to GDP to implement the necessary policies, “global GDP would be only 0.3% lower” in the ‘Regional Action’ scenario compared to the baseline, although costs would vary by region. The additional investment required to achieve the scenario’s objectives would be around USD 320 billion between 2020 and 2060. In OECD countries, this investment would mainly be in additional recycling, while non-OECD countries would have to invest in both recycling and improved waste collection to ensure adequate disposal.

The ‘Global Ambition’ policy package is estimated to lower global GDP by “only 0.8%” compared to the baseline. However, non-OECD countries will bear the brunt of the costs, as they will require substantial investments in improved waste management to achieve the policy target. The largest costs are projected for Sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting the need for international financial support.

The report, published in June 2022, complements the OECD’s first Global Plastics Outlook on economic drivers, environmental impacts, and policy options, which was published in February 2022. The February 2022 report quantified current trends in plastics use, waste generation and leakage, and identified four policy levers to reduce the environmental impacts of plastics. Together, OECD notes, the two reports provide a comprehensive roadmap for a more circular plastics lifecycle. [Publication: Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060] [Executive Summary

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