Plastics recycling at 9%

A new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggest that world is producing twice as much plastic waste as two decades ago, with the bulk of it ending up in landfill, incinerated or leaking into the environment, and only 9% successfully recycled.

The report, entitled Global Plastics Outlook, is the first published by the organization.

The OECD report also said that almost half of all plastic waste is generated in OECD countries, with plastic waste generated annually per person varying from 221 kg in the United States and 114 kg in European OECD countries to 69 kg, on average, for Japan and Korea. Most plastic pollution comes from inadequate collection and disposal of larger macroplastic debris, but leakage of microplastics (synthetic polymers smaller than 5 mm in diameter) from industrial plastic pellets, synthetic textiles, road markings and tyre wear are also a serious concern.

OECD countries also cause 14% of overall plastic leakage and account for 11% of macroplastics leakage and 35% of microplastics leakage.

The report found that the Covid-19 pandemic led to a 2.2% decrease in plastics use in 2020 as economic activity slowed, but there was a rise in food takeaway packaging and plastic medical equipment such as masks. As economic activity resumed in 2021, plastics consumption also rebounded.

Global production of plastics from recycled plastics has more than quadrupled from 6.8 million tonnes (Mt) in 2000 to 29.1 Mt in 2019, but this is still only 6% of the size of total plastics production, the report added. Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, while another 19% is incinerated, 50% ends up in landfill and 22% goes into uncontrolled dumpsites, is burned in open pits or ends up in terrestrial or aquatic environments.

“Reducing pollution from plastics will require action, and international co-operation, to reduce plastic production, including through innovation, better product design and developing environmentally friendly alternatives, as well as efforts to improve waste management and increase recycling,” the OECD said.

The complete report can be downloaded here.