Less than 10% of the plastic used around the world is recycled, the OECD said Tuesday, calling for “coordinated and global solutions” ahead of expected talks on an international plastics treaty. 

A new report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report found that 460 million metric tons of plastics were used in 2019, the number that nearly doubled since 2000. 

The amount of plastic waste has also more than doubled during that same time to 353 million metric tons, the Paris-based OECD said. 

“After taking into account losses during recycling, only 9% of plastic waste was ultimately recycled, while 19% was incinerated and almost 50% went to sanitary landfills,” it said in its Global Plastics Outlook. 

“The remaining 22% was disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or leaked into the environment,” the report added. 

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the use of plastics drop by 2.2% in 2020 compared with the previous year. However single-use plastics rose and overall use is “projected to pick up again” as the economy rebounds. 

Plastics contributed 3.4% of the global greenhouse emissions in 2019, 90% of it from “production and conversion from fossil fuels,” the report said.  

In the face of rampant global warming and pollution, it is “crucial that countries respond to the challenge with coordinated and global solutions,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said in the report. 

The OECD proposed a series of levers to address the issue, including developing the market for recycled plastics, which only represents 6% of the total, largely because they are more expensive. 

It added that new technologies related to decreasing the environmental footprint of plastic represented only 1.2% of all innovation concerning the product. 

While calling for “a more circular plastics lifecycle,” the OECD said that policies must also restrain overall consumption. 

It also called for “major investments in basic waste management infrastructure,” including 25 billion euros ($28 billion) a year to go toward efforts in low and middle-income countries.

Plastic treaty talks

The report comes less than a week before the U.N. Environment Assembly begins on February 28 in Nairobi, Kenya, where formal talks are expected to begin on a future international plastics treaty, the scope of which will be discussed. 

Shardul Agrawala, the head of the OECD’s environment and economy integration division, said Tuesday’s report “further accentuates the need for countries to come together to start looking towards a global agreement to address this very important problem.” 

Asked about the priorities of the treaty to be discussed in Nairobi, she said “there is an urgent waste management problem which is responsible for the bulk of the leakage to the environment.” 

“But we should not limit our focus just to the end-of-pipe solutions, there is a greater need in the long term to forge international cooperation and agreement towards alignment of standards,” she told an online press briefing Monday. 

In a survey published Tuesday by polling firm Ipsos for the World Wildlife Fund, 88% of respondents stressed the importance of an international treaty to combat plastic pollution. 

In the 28 countries surveyed, 23% of the respondents said such a treaty was “fairly important,” 31% said it was “very important” and 34% found it “essential.” 

 

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