Plastic waste has become an unprecedented pollution issue around the globe. From visible plastic litter on land and in oceans to invisible microplastics in lakes, mountains, and rain, the planet is increasingly blanketed in the petrochemical remnants of plastic production. With petrochemical companies avoiding fossil fuel carbon liabilities by massively increasing plastic production, the amount of plastic waste generated is set to climb dramatically.
This report examines the current and emerging methods by which plastic waste is managed globally and questions whether any of them present a solution to the rapidly accelerating generation of plastic waste. The short answer is that recycling at the margins cannot provide a solution to plastic pollution when plastic production is set to grow exponentially. Other ‘recovery’ waste management techniques such as incineration, plastic to fossil fuel, and downcycling to incorporate plastic waste in roads, will simply generate more pollution. The only long-term answer to plastic pollution is to produce less plastic. This seems unlikely while the petrochemical industry needs plastic as a safe haven from its carbon liabilities. Increasing plastic production offsets falling demand for its fossil fuels.