The new EASAC Commentary on Plastics sheds light on the plastics crisis and how it could be addressed in ongoing negotiations about an international Plastics Treaty. Systemic failures are driving rapid growth in production, consumption and leakage of plastics in the marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments. With current policies, global plastic waste is expected to nearly triple by 2060.

The 21st century is likely to be remembered as the “plastic age”. Today the planet is literally drowning in plastics. Global plastic waste is expected to nearly triple by 2060, unless drastic measures are taken.

The summary of the latest scientific evidence aims to inform negotiations of a much-needed International Plastics Treaty. “Negotiators must tackle the conflicts in the whole system,” says EASAC’s Prof. Michael Norton. “It will hurt commercial interests and thus not be a piece of cake. But to slow and reverse damage to the environment, biodiversity, and ultimately risks to human health, the Treaty must put an end to the continued growth in the production of plastics.”

Reducing plastics pollution by 80 % by 2040 demands a circular economy

According to the scientists, it is time to make the polluters pay. Voluntary mechanisms and market mechanisms are insufficient to address the problem. They make clear that banking on growth is not an option, not least because switching to many so-called “bio”-materials cannot be justified on resource or environmental grounds either.

Environment Co-chair Professor Andràs Bàldi explains: “Plastics do not rot; they only break down in smaller pieces and do not decompose. Meanwhile, the resulting micro- and nanoplastics have spread everywhere on the planet and are also found in our bodies. While the fatal effects on marine life are very obvious, we still do not have the evidence to allow us to assess our own risk from plastic contamination.”

To set up an International Plastics Treaty for success, EASAC advocates a system approach to reduce the volume of plastics production and consumption, ensure all plastics are reusable, recyclable or compostable, and keep plastics in circulation for as long as possible. Models suggest that by reducing demand by 30 % and increasing the recycling rate to 20 %, plastic pollution could be reduced by 80 % by 2040.

10 Science-based Recommendations for an International Plastics Treaty

  • Set a target for reducing plastic primary production with the aim of reducing the overall need, demand and use of packaging
  • Ensure all plastics are reusable, recyclable or compostable to allow circularity
  • Internalise all external (environmental, social, health) costs into the basic market price for virgin resin
  • Make product designers and retailers responsible for minimizing single use for on-the-go- items and make the responsible path the cheapest option to change consumer behaviour
  • Ban deliberate addition of microplastics to products
  • Commit to increasing the safety, durability, reusability, refillability, repairability, and refurbishing capability of plastic products
  • Incentivise companies to collaborate in reverse supply chains
  • Request life-cycle-analysis and proper biodegradability standards for resins claiming biodegradability
  • Extend producer responsibility to all costs related to waste management
  • Allow only exports from OECD to those non-OECD countries that consent and fulfil the criteria to treat such waste in an environmentally sound manner

Read the full report here: EASAC Commentary: Towards a Plastics Treaty

The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) is a cooperation organization of European science academies. The Council of Finnish Academies (CoFA) is a national member of EASAC.