World Generated Record Amount Of Single-use Plastic Waste: Report

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Despite rising consumer awareness, corporate attention and regulation, the world has generated a record amount of single-use plastic waste, according to a new report released Monday.

An additional 6 million metric tons (MMT) of waste was generated in 2021 compared to 2019 — mostly from fossil fuel-based "virgin" feedstocks.

An all-time record of 139 million metric tons of single-use plastic waste was generated in 2021, says the second Plastic Waste Makers Index, compiled by the philanthropic Minderoo Foundation.

Greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 were equivalent to the total emissions of the United Kingdom (460 million tonnes CO2e).

Most emissions are produced by the oil and gas and petrochemical industries in the "upstream" part of the lifecycle, the report says. Mechanical recycling reduces emissions by at least 30 to 40 per cent compared to producing polymers from fossil fuels by avoiding upstream emissions.

The top 20 list of petrochemical companies producing virgin polymers bound for single-use plastic remains effectively unchanged.

From 2019-21, growth in single-use plastics made from virgin polymers was 15 times that from recycled feedstocks.

Minderoo Foundation notes that within the petro-chemicals industry, two companies - Far Eastern New Century (FENC) and Indorama Ventures - are making strong commitments to produce on par recycled polymers at scale.

A further eight companies have recently set ambitious 2030 recycled polymer targets of at least 20 per cent of production.

The report suggests that only strong regulatory intervention can solve what amounts to market failure.

Andrew Forrest, Minderoo founder, described the findings as "shocking." "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," added Forrest, who is also the chief executive of iron ore giant Fortescue Metals.

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