Executive summary

Plastic pollution is one of the great environmental challenges of the 21st century, causing wide-ranging damage to ecosystems and human health, while the fossil-fuel origins of most of the plastics produced have implications for climate change. Yet plastics have become an integral part of the global economy, being used in almost all economic sectors. The OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060 first provides an overview of plastics use, waste and environmental impacts with current policies until 2060 and then compares two scenarios to understand the policies needed for, and economic implications of, drastically reducing the environmental impacts of plastics. An additional scenario, which has climate mitigation as its primary objective, examines the cross implications of policies aimed at climate mitigation and plastics leakage reduction.

A companion volume to the Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options released earlier, this report, together with its predecessor, provides a comprehensive roadmap for a more circular plastics lifecycle.

The core of the analysis in the Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060 is based on simulations using the OECD’s multi-sectoral, multi-regional dynamic computable general equilibrium model, ENV-Linkages, extended to include 14 polymer categories and both primary and secondary (recycled) plastics production.

The modelling projections suggest that under current policies, by 2060:

  • The use of plastics could almost triple globally, driven by economic and population growth. While OECD countries are projected to double their plastics use, the largest increases are expected in emerging economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

  • Plastic waste is also projected to almost triple by 2060, with half of all plastic waste still being landfilled and less than a fifth recycled.

  • Primary plastics will continue to dominate the feedstock. While recycled (secondary) plastics are projected to grow more quickly than primary plastics, they will only make up 12% of all plastics in 2060.

  • Plastic leakage to the environment is projected to double to 44 million tonnes (Mt) a year, while the build-up of plastics in aquatic environments will more than triple, exacerbating environmental and health impacts.

  • Other environmental impacts through the plastics lifecycle are also projected to increase, mostly due to the plastics production phase. Greenhouse gas emissions from the plastics lifecycle will more than double, from 1.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2e) to 4.3 Gt CO2e. A range of other plastics lifecycle impacts, including for instance ozone formation, acidification, and human toxicity are also projected to more than double.

Achieving a global goal of eliminating plastic pollution, as articulated by the United Nations Environment Assembly in its resumed fifth session, requires shared objectives and co-ordinated efforts at the international level. All countries will need to implement policies to curb plastics demand, increase product lifespans through repair and reuse, and improve waste management and recyclability. The Global Plastics Outlook models two policy packages, with different levels of stringency, to understand their environmental and economic impacts by 2060:

  1. 1. The Regional Action policy scenario models the impact of a policy package to improve the circularity of plastics use and diminish the environmental impacts of plastics. The package ensures that economic growth can continue, while reducing plastic leakage to the environment. It comprises a mix of fiscal and regulatory policies targeting all phases of the plastics lifecycle, but is more ambitious for OECD countries than for non-OECD countries.

  2. 2. The Global Ambition policy scenario explores a very stringent policy package that aims to reduce plastic leakage to near zero by 2060. The package includes the same instruments as the Regional Action policy scenario, but with more ambitious targets. Furthermore, it is implemented more rapidly and globally.

By 2060, the Regional Action policy package could decrease plastic waste by almost a fifth below the Baseline and more than halve plastic leakage to the environment, compared to the Baseline (where leakage grows over time). This is largely due to a tax on plastics use, which gradually increases to USD 750/tonne by 2060, and a tax on packaging that is one-third higher. These taxes restrain both the demand for and production of plastics. The global recycling rate would increase to 40%. Policies that boost demand for plastic scrap and increase the supply of recycled plastics see the market share of secondary plastics surge, from 12% to 29%. Meanwhile, mismanaged waste would decline by more than 60% from Baseline levels, falling below 2019 levels, largely through improved waste management systems in non-OECD countries. Despite its positive impacts, plastics use and waste would still more than double by 2060 from 2019 levels in the Regional Action scenario. Although plastics use and waste will be partially decoupled from economic growth, stocks of plastics in the environment continue to build up rapidly.

The Global Ambition package could reduce plastics use and waste by a third below the Baseline and almost completely eliminate plastic leakage to the environment by 2060. The reductions in use and waste would largely be achieved through a tax on plastics that increases to USD 750/tonne globally by 2030 and to USD 1500/tonne by 2060, and a tax on packaging that is one-third higher. Recycling would increase to almost 60%, becoming the most common waste management option. Meanwhile the market share of secondary plastics would surge to 41% by 2060, primarily due to important pull policies such as increased recycled content targets. Mismanaged waste would fall to near zero (6 Mt, down from 153 Mt in the Baseline scenario). Leakage to the environment is also substantially curbed, falling by 85% compared to the Baseline. Macroplastic leakage is almost completely eliminated, including to aquatic environments, though microplastic leakage is only reduced by 9% compared to Baseline projections. The Global Ambition package is projected to reduce emissions by 2.1 Gt CO2e, underlining the positive impact of circular policies on achieving climate goals.

Both the Regional Action and Global Ambition policy packages can be implemented at relatively modest costs to GDP. Compared to the Baseline, global GDP would be only 0.3% lower in the Regional Action scenario, showing that this policy package can be achieved with relatively moderate economic costs. However, there are important regional differences, with the People’s Republic of China slightly benefitting (less than 0.1%) but higher costs in other regions: 1.1% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 1.8% in non-OECD European Union countries. A significant part of the costs of the policy package concerns the cumulative additional investment required to achieve the Regional Action policy objectives; this amounts to USD 320 billion (bn) between 2020 and 2060. In OECD countries this investment is almost entirely in additional recycling (USD 160 bn), whereas non-OECD countries would need to invest USD 100 bn in recycling and USD 60 bn in improved waste collection to ensure adequate disposal.

The Global Ambition policy package is estimated to lower world GDP by only 0.8% compared to the Baseline; thus the economic cost of policy action is still limited at a global level. However, the bulk of the costs will be borne by non-OECD countries, as substantial investments in improved waste management must be made to achieve the ambitious policy target. The largest costs are projected for Sub-Saharan Africa, whose GDP would be reduced by 2.8% below the Baseline. This highlights the need for supportive policies and international financial support to ensure the situation for vulnerable households is not exacerbated.


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