Plastic consumption of G20 nations set to double despite measures to cut single-use products

Plastic consumption is projected to double in the world’s 20 biggest economies by 2050, new research has found.

The Group of 20 (G20) nations account for 80 per cent of global plastic consumtion and waste and are currently on track to produce an estimated 53 million metric tons of plastic waste per year by 2030, up from 40 million metric tons in 2015.

By 2050, this figure could double to 110 million metric tons per year if no action is taken, said the study by research group Back to Blue.

It pointed out that existing national bans and curbs have failed to address the pollution crisis and called for a sweeping set of new global policies, including worldwide bans on some single-use plastic (SUP) products to effectively combat growing plastic pollution.

“Proper plastic management is the biggest challenge facing us today,” said Aafrin Kidwai, the editor-in-chief of Solid Waste India, a portal that carries news about the waste sector.

“With mounting evidence that the world is generating more single-use plastics than ever before, the Back to Blue report plays a crucial role in identifying countries that are likely to become major sources of such waste.”

Increasing demand for single-use plastics and limited recycling capacities in many countries are major drivers of this trend, the study said, and called for urgent measures to reduce plastic consumption, improve recycling rates and promote alternative materials.

The study said significant progress was made in some areas like the ban on single-use plastics in some countries and the development of innovative solutions for plastic waste.

However, much more needs to be done to address the scale of the problem and prevent further harm to the environment and human health.

The report also highlighted the disproportionate impact of plastic pollution on marginalised communities and developing countries, which often lack the resources and infrastructure to manage plastic waste.

The findings of the study are based on forensically modelling the potential impact of policies being considered by UN plastic treaty negotiators.

In March 2020, 175 nations agreed to develop a legally binding global instrument to address plastic pollution known as the UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution. Negotiations for this historic treaty are ongoing, with an expected completion date of 2024.

The study found only the most ambitious policies being considered will significantly impact the global plastic waste crisis while others will fail to make any tangible difference to the amount of expected waste generation.

Researchers explored three policy approaches that reached the advanced stages of UN negotiations and that have the greatest potential to reduce plastic consumption.

These policies include Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mechanisms, tax schemes and SUP bans.

A global ban on unnecessary SUP items is the most effective policy, according to the study, but plastic consumption is still predicted to be 1.48 times higher in 2050 compared to the 2019 baseline, if only this measure is implemented.

EPR mechanisms that assign responsibility for the post-consumer phase of a product’s life cycle to the producer were shown to have a minimal effect, despite being seen as a vital part of the solution.

The impact of a tax on virgin plastic resin – used in packaging and other products – was also found to be limited, with consumption set to rise 1.57 times by 2050 if only this measure is implemented.

A combination of all three scenarios still leaves plastic consumption rising, albeit at a slightly slower pace – 1.25 times higher in 2050 compared to 2019.

Even if all three policy scenarios are implemented simultaneously, plastic consumption will still increase, but the rate of such increase will be slightly slower – at 1.25 times greater in 2050.

“Negotiators of the UN plastics treaty must maintain the highest levels of ambition possible when entering the next round of negotiations, and industry needs to play a constructive, not obstructive, role in reaching a deal,” said Charles Goddard, editorial director of the Economist Impact, of which Back to Blue is an initiative.

“So far, commitments by industry, retailers and brands to reduce plastic waste are short on detail and have failed to materialise. Only a bold suite of legally-binding policies will result in plastic consumption peaking by mid-century.”