Publié: 14 Jan 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.

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.

Plastic Pollution Crisis

This section aims to collect information on the plastic pollution crisis to have a broad picture of the challenges that plastics represent to the environment.

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 billion 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.

Plastics and Waste

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Plastics and Mountains

Plastic pollution is now everywhere from the Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench. Find out how plastic ended-up in remote parts of the mountains in this section.

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.

World Economic Forum Strategic Insights