Mise à jour: 03 Déc 2021

The world is facing a plastic crisis, the status quo is not an option. Plastic pollution is a serious issue of global concern which requires an urgent and international response involving all relevant actors at different levels. This page aims at listing relevant information, research, data and/or press releases issued by our partners in Geneva and other institutions around the world.

Facing the Plastic Pollution Crisis

In this section: A glimpse on the global plastic crisis | Plastics production and the plastic industry | Plastic pollution around the world

Of all the plastic that ever existed: more than half was produced in the last 15 years and 91% has never been recycled. The Story of Plastics

A Glimpse on the Global Plastic Crisis

The world is facing a plastic crisis. Plastic pollution has become a global concern, as our planet is drowning in plastic litter and microplastics. While plastic has many valuable uses, societies have become highly dependent on single-use or disposable plastic — with severe environmental consequences. Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the natural environment that scientists have even suggested it could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era. How did we get here and what does this mean for us, other species and the planet? This section offers broad picture of the challenges that plastics represent to the environment.

Plastics Production and the Plastic Industry

The plastics industry began in the early 1900s when the first synthetic plastic was created in the U.S. Since the industry began, annual global plastic production has exploded from some 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018 (Statista, 2020). The cumulative production of plastic surpassed eight billion metric tons worldwide, and it is expected to further increase in the coming decades. Plastics cause pollution at almost every stage of their lifecycle, starting with the use of fossil fuels for their production.

Plastic Pollution Around the World

Plastic pollution is found everywhere from the Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench. Find out how plastic ends up in remote parts of the world in this section.

International Cooperation on Plastics

As plastic is a global issue, international cooperation is needed to coordinate actions to have an efficient decision making in order to tackle this major environmental problem. A number of initiatives and activities exist aiming at addressing the plastic waste problem and eliminating plastic litter entering the oceans.

Find out more information on advancing international cooperation on plastic pollution.

World Economic Forum Strategic Insights on Plastics and the Environment

Plastics and COVID-19

The fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars. However, plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe. Find more information on how the pandemic affected the plastic crisis and what can be done to address health concerns while reducing plastic pollution. Find more information on COVID-19 and the environment in our update on the topic.

Plastics and Waste

In this section: Waste Management | Marine Litter and Microplastics | Plastic Recycling

Waste Management

More than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s (UNEP, 2018). This large amount of plastic production and the increase of single use plastics has led to plastic to become a waste management issue. Indeed, about 60% of the plastic produced since 1950 has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment. In this section, find out relevant information on the waste management of plastic waste.

Marine Litter and Microplastics

Of the approximately 275 million metric tons of plastic waste produced annually, up to 12 million tons leak into oceans, wreaking havoc on livelihoods and ecosystems (CIEL, 2020) . The result is an estimated $13 billion in annual environmental damage to marine ecosystems. Plastics are everywhere now even in the deepest part of the oceans. If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. Learn more about this issue in this section.

Plastic Recycling

Only 9% of all plastic produced by humanity has been recycled and only 14% of plastic waste is currently being collected for recycling (UNEP, 2019). As plastic disposal in landfill and burning has damaging consequences on human and environmental health, recycling is increasing seen as having huge potential to tackle the plastic crisis. However, plastic recycling presents huge challenges due to the nature of the material itself. Learn more about this issue in this section.

Plastics and Biodiversity

Given the persistent nature of plastic and its toxicity, plastic pollution is a significant threat to biodiversity. In a 2016 report, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognized that marine debris is a globally significant stressor on the marine and coastal environment, as studies show that almost 800 marine species are affected by plastic pollution. Find more information on this issues in the links below.

Plastics and Air Pollution

Transforming fossil fuel into plastic resins and additives releases highly toxic substances into the air. Moreover, all plastic waste management technologies result in the release of toxic substances to the air, water, and soils.

Plastics and Climate Change

By 2050, the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 10 to 13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget (CIEL, 2019). Plastic is hence threatening the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Plastics and Health

Humans are exposed to a large variety of toxic chemicals and microplastics through inhalation, ingestion, and direct skin contact, all along the plastic lifecycle. According to WWF on average people could be ingesting approximately 5 grams of plastic every week, which is the equivalent weight of a credit card. According to various civil society organizations, plastic threatens human health on a global scale. Learn more about it in this section.

Plastics and Human Rights

Recent studies and reports have identified quite a large number of human rights impacts and outright violations throughout the life cycle of plastics. Learn more on this issue in this section.

Safeguarding the human rights of present and future generations that are compromised by the growing toxification of the planet demands that the international community reverse the plastics crisis. Addressing the negative impacts of the plastics cycle on human rights and integrating a human rightsbased approach to plastics policy are indispensable for effective and legitimate solutions to the global plastics problem.

Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Report to the UNGA (A/76/207)

Plastics and Gender

These negative impacts of plastic pollution are disproportionately distributed around the globe and among social groups. Women, especially in rural communities, may be uniquely exposed to environmental threats whilst facing limited access to social protection and the resources to build resilience. At the same time, women play a central yet largely invisible role in the use and recycling of plastic. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that each stage of the plastic value chain has gender implications. Women can also be important agents of change, whose potential to participate in environmental protection may remain untapped. The resources in this section shed light on the intersection of gender, plastics and the environment.

Plastics and Trade

Plastics and Standards

A vast array of standards play a role in shaping the plastics economy. In addition to standards on the design and characteristics of plastic products, there are standards on topics as diverse as the chemical composition of plastics and the labeling of products. An array of intellectual property standards also shape the plastics market, regulating matters such as the ownership of trademarks, industrial designs, copyright and patents on plastics and technologies relevant to waste management.

Biodegradable Plastics

Estimates show that almost 80% of all plastic ever produced has ended up either in landfills or in the natural environment (Geyer, Jambeck & Lavender Law, 2017). Although biodegradable plastics are often proposed as a solution to reduce damage on the environment, their potential to address the crisis on the long-term remains limited. This section provides relevant information on the nature and challenges of biodegradable plastics.

Life Cycle Approaches

Many of the early responses to address plastic pollution focus on the end of life stage of plastic. However, the complexity of the plastic crisis demand that we consider impacts and opportunities at each stage of the life cycle to design comprehensive solutions that will effectively limit all impacts of plastic, rather than merely displacing them.  This section provides information on life cycle approaches to quantify and address the plastic crisis, sustainable consumption and production of plastics, as well as initiatives to foster a circular plastic economy.

Towards a Green Economy without Plastics

As plastics have major environmental and health impacts, many initiatives, projects and governance responses and options have been developed to tackle this major environmental problem.