Report: more single-use plastic waste in the world than ever before


Minderoo Foundation’s Plastic Waste Makers Index 2023 (PWMI) claims the planet’s plastic pollution problem is worsening as there is more single-use plastic waste than ever before.

PWMI also includes new estimates of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics that “demonstrate” how producers also contribute to the climate crisis.

Minderoo Foundation says that despite rising consumer awareness, corporate attention and regulation, single-use plastic waste is still on the rise.

According to the PWMI, an additional 6 million metric tons of single-use plastic waste (equivalent to almost 1kg per person on the planet, the Foundation says) was generated in 2021 compared to 2019 – still almost entirely made from fossil fuels.

Key findings from the PWMI include that lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 were equivalent to the total emissions of the United Kingdom (450 million metric tons CO₂e).

The PWMI also found recycling is “failing to scale fast enough” and remains a marginal activity for the plastics sector – from 2019 to 2021, growth in single-use plastics made from fossil fuels was 15 times that from recycled plastics.

The Minderoo Foundation says the PWMI brings the benchmark up to date with data to the end of 2021 – the first edition covered 2019. It discovered that the global population used 139 MMT (million metric tons) of single-use plastic in 2021, up from 133 MMT in 2019.

The fossil-fuel giants aren’t tackling the problem of plastics, it’s the opposite.

Commenting on the PWMI, Dr Andrew Forrest AO, Chairman of Minderoo Foundation, said: “More plastic, more waste and more pollution.

“The fossil-fuel giants aren’t tackling the problem of plastics – it’s the opposite, they’re making even more of a product that threatens our people and planet. For the petrochemical industry to argue otherwise is greenwashing of the highest order.

“We need a fundamentally different approach that turns the tap off on new plastic production. We need a ‘polymer premium’ on every kilogram of plastic polymer made from fossil fuel. We need financial incentives that encourage reuse and recycling and the building of new, critical infrastructure.

“If you’re investing in polymer producers right now when there isn’t a polymer premium in place, then your hands are covered in the blood of the destruction of nature.”

Among the report’s key recommendations is a call for investors and financial institutions to use engagement, proxy voting and divestment strategies to pressure petrochemical companies to build new fossil fuel-based polymer production facilities.

Our research provides the evidence needed by legislators to develop meaningful industry regulation on a global scale.

Dominic Charles, co-author of the Index, says they’re encouraged by the advancements made by the industry’s trendsetters but said this shouldn’t detract from the magnitude of the task ahead for the bulk of polymer producers.

“Looking back over the two years since we first shone a spotlight on the source of the single-use plastics crisis, it’s concerning that a greater number of the Top 50 polymer producers have not achieved higher circularity scores.

“While our research provides the evidence needed by legislators to develop meaningful industry regulation on a global scale, it should also guide corporations on the need for a greater level of transparency on their plastics circularity ambitions and actions.”

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