A new study from Back to Blue, an initiative of Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation, says current United Nations efforts to halt the growth in plastic consumption and to "bend the curve" on plastics use will not achieve its goal by 2050.
Peak Plastics: Bending the Consumption Curve, confirms an "urgent, global effort is needed to stop the flood of plastic pollution at its source," as David Azoulay, of the Center for International Environmental Law, pointed out. The entire lifecycle of plastics … must be addressed by the future, legally binding UN treaty to end plastic pollution, he said.
Much ground remains to be covered before such a treaty has been conceived, let alone implemented.
In March 2022, representatives from 175 countries endorsed a resolution on plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly, agreeing to develop a legally binding global instrument to end plastic pollution: the UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution.
The initial negotiating session was held in Uruguay at the end of November, and another four will follow, with the treaty expected to be in place by the end of 2024. The negotiators are considering a range of possible measures to include in the treaty, aimed at what this study refers to as "reaching peak plastic consumption," the point and volume at which global plastic consumption stops growing and begins to drop.
"The urgency to reach peak plastic waste — and also peak production of disposable plastics — is crucial for preserving our planet and safeguarding our well-being,” said Perinaz Bhada Tata of the World Bank.
In the new study, which builds on work previously done by numerous prominent authorities, including OECD, the World Bank, SYSTEMIQ, CSIR, and WWF, the potential impact of three of the policy approaches being considered by United Nations plastic treaty negotiators has been forensically modeled for the first time. These three, believed to have greater potential than others to arrive at the point of peak consumption in the foreseeable future, are a phased ban on single-use plastic products; a mandatory extended producer responsibility regime imposed on brands and retailers introducing packaging on the market; and a tax on the production of virgin resin manufactured from petrochemical feedstock.
The model tested whether any of these, alone or together, could reach peak plastic consumption before 2050. Back to Blue’s model uses a quantitative forecasting methodology to predict at what point each country will peak in its plastic consumption. The seven categories of polymers used in the model account for 80 percent of all plastic production.
Failure to agree on any policy interventions will result in plastics consumption across G20 countries hitting 451 million metric tons by 2050, nearly twice the 2019 level of 261 million tonnes, the study found.