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© shutterstock / Gorlov-KV
DEEP DIVE 1: PLASTIC EMITS SIGNIFICANT GHG EMISSIONS AT EVERY STAGE OF THE LIFECYCLE:
Research has shown that 91% of the GHG emissions
from plastic came from plastic production
processes,61
meaning that plastic imposes
significant costs on society before it even becomes
waste. The majority of GHG emissions are emitted before
use by consumers, during the extraction and manufacturing
stages of the plastic lifecycle, estimated at 1.6 gigatons in
2015.62
However, early-stage research suggests that the
GHG contribution from when plastic becomes waste could
be much higher than current estimates suggest.63
Waste management also produces GHG emissions,
including both direct and indirect contributions
made by incineration and landfill. The end-of-life
(EOL) stage has previously been estimated to emit lower
emissions than other lifecycle stages, at up to 161 million
tonnes in 2015.64
Incineration is the most dominant source
of emissions from the EOL stage. Additionally, both landfill
and incineration result in a need for new virgin plastic
production, contributing to future GHG emissions.
Downstream GHG emissions could also be more
significant than initially realised due to emissions
Managing plastic waste costs US$32 billion.67
This
encompasses the cost to collect, sort, recycle and/or
dispose of the waste by both the formal and informal
sector. Municipal solid plastic waste management activities
are conducted across the world by both the formal and
informal waste sectors.68
Formal waste management is
overseen by the formal solid-waste authorities of a country.
Part of the formal costs in some countries are covered by
funds raised through EPR systems, where producers pay
some of the costs of managing their plastic packaging once
it becomes waste. However, in most countries around
WWF INTERNATIONAL 2021
from mismanaged plastic waste. Mismanaged plastic
waste is either disposed of by burning in open fires or
dumping into the landscape, leaking into the environment
and often into the ocean. Open burning has severe negative
impacts on the climate, as the waste is burned without the
presence of air pollution controls. Open burning of waste
releases an air pollutant called black carbon, which has a
global warming potential up to 5,000 times greater than
carbon dioxide.65
Plastic that is dumped into the landscape
also contributes to GHG emissions. As it degrades, plastic
continually releases emissions and evidence shows these
emissions increase as the plastic breaks down further.66
Research is still in the early stages, but evidence shows that
both marine and terrestrial plastic pollution are a source of
GHG emissions, with terrestrial pollution releasing GHG
emissions at a higher rate. Therefore, mismanaged plastic
is likely a considerable source of GHG emissions. However,
due to the limitations of data, this is not included in the
minimum lifecycle cost estimate at this stage. The estimate
of the cost of GHG emissions from the plastic lifecycle is
therefore a lower bound.
the world, formal waste management is subsidised by the
state with public funds that could otherwise be diverted
to education or health. This can result in significant
government costs. Formal collection for municipal solid
plastic waste alone cost an estimated US$27 billion globally
in 2016.69
The informal waste sector, on the other hand,
comprises waste management activities conducted by
individuals or enterprises that are involved in private-sector
waste-management independent of the formal solid waste
authorities.

TCoPS

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of TCoPS

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https://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2020
https://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/freshwater_fishes_report
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http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/covid19_report
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2019
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2018
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/livingplanet_summary
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/livingplanet_full
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/conversation_strategy
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2017
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2015
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2013
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/dalbergreport2013-de
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/dalbergreport2013-fr
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/dalbergreport2013
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwf_france/rapport_dactivite_2011-2012
http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/wwfintl/annualreview2012
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