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Less than a fifth of plastic waste will be recycled in 2060: OECD

08 June 2022 IHS Markit Chemical Expert

Less than a fifth of global plastic waste will be recycled in 2060, precipitating a need for "radical action," even as investment in advanced recycling multiplies exponentially, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

On top of that, the amount of plastic waste being produced in 2060 will have almost tripled current levels, the OECD said in a report issued 3 June.

So, the OECD has developed a suite of policy proposals it says could substantially reduce plastic pollution—known as leakage—by 2060 at "modest GDP costs."

The policies include taxes aimed at increasing the cost of using virgin resin and slowing demand growth; content targets and extended producer responsibility schemes to drive up recycling rates; and investments in waste collection and disposal infrastructure.

"If we want a world that is free of plastic pollution, in line with the ambitions of the United Nations Environment Assembly, we will need to take much more stringent and globally co-ordinated action," OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said.

Plastics use to double

Assuming current trends continue, global GDP will triple by 2060, according to the OECD, and in the baseline scenario, plastics use will nearly triple, growing from 460 million metric tons (mt)/year in 2019 to 1.231 billion mt/year in 2060.

Growth will be driven by the transportation, construction, and packaging end markets. Virgin resin will continue to dominate demand, with consumption of recycled plastic increasing from 6% in 2019 to just 12% in 2060.

The amount of waste generated will also grow, said the OECD, rising from 353 million mt/year and 77% of plastics consumption in 2019 to 1.014 billion mt/year and 82% of consumption.

At the same time, there will be progress in waste management, and while the volume of waste that is not recycled, landfilled, or incinerated is forecast to rise from 79 million mt/year in 2019 to 153 million mt/year in 2060, its share of the waste stream will decline from 22% to 15%.

Recycling will account for a growing share of waste management, rising from 9% in 2019 to 17% in 2060.

However, the flow of plastics into the environment will increase in absolute terms, doubling from 22 million mt/year in 2019 to 44 million mt/year in 2060, the OECD said. "More ambitious and coordinated policy action is needed along the entire plastics lifecycle," it said in the report.

Two paths

Under a "regional action" scenario, policies were chosen with an eye to the different circumstances and challenges facing OECD and non-OECD countries. According to OECD's modeling, these policies would reduce global plastics demand to 1.018 billion mt/year by 2060, down 17% from the baseline.

"This is achieved largely thanks to the effects of taxing plastics use on restraining plastic demand and production, especially on applications with short lifespans," it said.

Plastic waste would decline to 837 million mt/year, mainly on lower demand. Improved waste management would push the recycling rate to 40%, and recycled material would supply 29% of plastics demand. Meanwhile, mismanaged waste would decline to 59 million mt/year, and leakage of plastic into the environment would decline by half.

The second, "global ambition" scenario assumes greater international coordination. In this case, global plastics demand would total 827 million mt/year in 2060, down 33% from the baseline.

"Again, taxes induce re-alignments of economic activities away from plastic-using sectors, especially in non-OECD Eurasia and Sub-Saharan Africa," the authors of the report wrote.

Plastic waste would rise to 679 million mt/year, compared with 1.014 billion mt/year under the baseline scenario.

The recycling rate would increase to almost 60%, and recycled material would account for 41% of plastics demand. Mismanaged waste would fall near zero, and leakage into the environment would fall to 6 million mt/year.

The effect on global economic growth would be modest, said OECD, which forecasts global GDP just 0.3% lower than the baseline in the case of "regional action," and just 0.8% lower in the case of "global ambition."

ACC seeks no taxes

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) welcomes the report, said Joshua Baca, ACC's vice president/plastics, although he disagrees with some elements, particularly the emphasis on taxing the use of plastics.

"There is significant alignment between what OECD recommends in its report and what America's plastic makers have proposed in our five principles to end plastic waste globally, including enhancing plastics' design for circularity, improving recycling and litter collection rates, setting country-specific recycling targets, and investing in waste management infrastructure," said Baca.

"ACC does not agree with OECD's recommendation to tax plastics," he said. "This would be particularly devastating as the world grapples to provide affordable clean energy and a safe food supply."

--Based on article that first appeared in S&P Global's Chemical Week.

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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