Environmental group warns social cost of plastics to hit $7.1tr in 2040

Fanny Zhang


SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The cost to society, the environment and the economy of plastic produced in 2040 will rise to $7.1tr, equivalent to 85% of global spending on health in 2018, unless action is taken, according to a report commissioned by environmental organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The social cost of plastics produced in 2019 stood at $3.7tr, more than the GDP of India, a giant emerging market in Asia, stated the report by consultancy Dalberg for WWF titled “Plastics: The cost to society, environment and the economy”, which was released on Monday.

“Under a business as usual scenario, it is estimated that by 2040 there will be a doubling of plastic production and a tripling of plastic pollution entering the ocean to 29m tonnes, increasing the total stock of plastic in the ocean to 600m tonnes,” it said.

“Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the plastic lifecycle will account for up to 20% of the entire global carbon budget, accelerating the climate crisis,” the report added.

The cost of plastic to society, the environment and the economy is at least 10 times higher than the market price of virgin plastic, and the current approach to address the plastic crisis is failing, based on the analysis.

The report highlights how fragmented regulatory approaches, misplaced incentives as well as lack of coordinated technical resources, financial support and consistent data on plastic leakage are currently costing the planet.

To address this crisis on a systemic level and reduce this cost, WWF is calling on governments to start the negotiation of a legally binding global treaty on marine plastic pollution at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022.

WWF is urging all UN member states to start negotiating for a global treaty that must tackle all stages of the plastic lifecycle, stopping the leakage of plastic pollution into the oceans by 2030.

The organization added that current quantifiable societal cost of plastic is significant but could be just the tip of the iceberg.

In particular, the costs of known and potential impacts on human health as well as impacts on the terrestrial ecosystems have not been quantified or are still difficult to quantify at this point, it added.

Photo: Compressed plastic bottles collected from the Nile River for recycling at a solid waste management base on Qursaya island in Giza, Egypt, June 5, 2021. (Source: Xinhua/Shutterstock)

Click here to see regulatory targets and a list of chemical and mechanical recyclers on the ICIS Circular Economy topic page.


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