Single-use plastic production on the rise in 2021 despite environmental impact, new report finds

"We need a fundamentally different approach, that turns the tap off on new plastic production.”

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Image Credit: Plastic Free July

Despite a growing awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic, production rose to an all-time high in 2021. A new report conducted by Minderoo Foundation, an Australian-based philanthropic organization, found single-use plastic production increased to 139 million metric tons in 2021—up 6 million metric tons from 2019.

This new index is almost 2.2 pounds more plastic per person on Earth, CNN reported.

“More plastic, more waste and more pollution,” Dr. Andrew Forrest, Minderoo Foundation Chairman, said. “They’re shocking findings, but they’re the results of this second edition of the Plastic Waste Makers Index.

According to the study, Plastic Waste Maker’s Index, the majority of that plastic was derived from fossil fuel based “virgin” materials rather than recycled plastics. Since “virgin” plastics were responsible for 15 times more of the increase in production between 2019 and 2021, Minderoo Foundation warned that the plastic waste crisis is worsening and critical action is needed.

“For the petrochemical industry to argue otherwise is greenwashing of the highest order,” Forrest said. “We need a fundamentally different approach, that turns the tap off on new plastic production.” 

While efforts to regulate single-use plastics, including an international treaty that was developed through the UN Environment Assembly, have yet to stem the problem, the report focuses on “the three themes of reducing the production of plastics from fossil fuels, increasing the plastic products designed to be circular and reducing plastic pollution into the environment,” EcoWatch reported.

A few suggestions from the authors of the index are calling for a “polymer premium” on every new kilogram of plastic generated from fossil fuels, EcoWatch reported and provide funding to help countries with overwhelming plastic waste manage its cleanup and processing.

“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,” Dominic Charles, Index co-author, said.

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