The lifetime cost to society, the environment and the economy of plastic produced in 2019 alone has been determined at $3.7-trillion, more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of India, a new report by global consulting firm Dalberg, commissioned by non-governmental organisation the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), finds.
Unless action is taken, these costs are set to double for the plastics produced in 2040 at $7.1-trillion, equivalent to 85% of global spending on health in 2018 and greater than the combined GDP of Germany, Canada and Australia in 2019.
The WWF says the report demonstrates that governments and citizens are unknowingly subsiding a plastic system that is imposing countless negative impacts on people and the environment.
The report ‘Plastics: The cost to society, environment and the economy’ highlights how fragmented regulatory approaches, misplaced incentives and a lack of coordinated technical resources, financial support and inconsistent data on plastic leakage are currently costing people on earth.
Failure to understand and remediate the real costs of plastics will cost even more in the future, as under a ‘business as usual’ scenario, it is estimated that by 2040, there will be a doubling of plastic production and a tripling of plastic pollution entering the ocean to 29-million tonnes, increasing the total stock of plastic in the ocean to 600-million tonnes.
Greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from the plastic lifecycle will account for up to 20% of the entire global carbon budget, accelerating the climate crisis, the report finds.
To address this crisis on a systemic level and reduce the cost that plastic imposes on society, the WWF is calling on governments to start the negotiation of a legally binding global treaty on marine plastic pollution at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in February 2022.
The analysis shows that the cost of plastic to society, the environment and the economy is at least ten times higher than the market price of virgin plastic and that the current approach to addressing the plastic crisis is failing.
Marginalised communities are disproportionally bearing the cost of the plastic lifecycle, and climate change, which the plastics lifecycle is contributing to, disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups.
Further to the current high quantifiable societal cost of plastic, there are the costs of known and potential impacts on human health as well as the impacts on terrestrial ecosystems, which have not been quantified or are still difficult to calculate at this point.
The report finds that implementation of a global treaty could help South African more efficiently tackle the plastic crisis and, therefore, avoid the costs associated with the plastic lifecycle, such as the determined impact of plastics on key economic industries and the threat posed to human health.
The minimum lifetime cost of the plastic produced in 2019 imposed on South Africa is about $60.72-billion, including damage to livelihoods and key economic industries, imposition of clean-up costs on governments and threats to the population’s health, the report finds.
The country’s waste management system is struggling to deal with national plastic waste generation, resulting in a considerable amount of plastic leaking into the environment.