TCoPS - 6

Plastic plays many important roles, but
its production, use and disposal impose
countless negative impacts on society,
with plastic pollution among the most
pressing environmental issues of today.1
Due to its seemingly cheap price and various uses,
plastic has been increasingly used across millions
of applications. As a result, plastic production
has almost doubled over the past two decades.2
The production of this plastic releases chemical
pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG) that
can cause adverse health effects in humans and
contribute to climate change.3,4
Given that much
of the plastic produced is designed to be used
only once,5
increasing plastic production will
inevitably result in increases in plastic waste. This
waste is either disposed of via processes that can
also release chemical pollutants and contribute
to climate change, or leaks into the environment,
becoming plastic pollution. Today, more than 11
million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every
marine life,7
Pollution in the ocean poses a threat to
impacting the provision of ecosystem
and damaging key economic industries
such as fisheries and tourism.9
These impacts generate significant costs
for society that are not accounted for in
plastic's market price: the lifetime10
of the plastic produced in 2019 will be at
least US$3.7 trillion (+/-US$1 trillion)11
more than the GDP of India.12
to be a relatively cheap material when looking
at the market price primary plastic producers
pay for virgin plastic,13
just over US$1,000 per tonne.14
Plastic appears
In 2019, the cost was
However, this
price fails to account for the full cost imposed
across the plastic lifecycle. For example, the
cost of GHG emissions from across the plastic
lifecycle amounts to more than US$171 billion.15
Furthermore, the management of plastic waste
cost more than US$32 billion,16
to collect, sort,
dispose and recycle the huge quantities of plastic
waste generated in 2019 alone.17
Plastic takes
hundreds to thousands of years to fully degrade
and as it degrades, it breaks down into smaller
and smaller particles making it hard to recover
and remove plastic from the environment. Plastic
will therefore remain in the environment to incur
further costs. For example, it is estimated that the
plastic produced in 2019 that becomes marine
plastic pollution will incur a cost of US$3.1 trillion
(+/-US$1 trillion) over its lifetime as a result of
the reduction in ecosystem services provided by
marine ecosystems.18
There are also additional
costs incurred from clean-up activities.
At the same time, a lack of data prevents
cost estimates for all the negative impacts
of plastic, so the true lifetime cost of plastic
is even higher than the current estimate
suggests. There are data gaps and limitations
in understanding when it comes to the size
and extent of the damage caused by the plastic
pollution crisis. Therefore, the current estimate
is the lower bound of the full cost imposed by the
plastic lifecycle.
Without significant action, plastic
production is expected to significantly
increase, resulting in a corresponding rise
in the cost imposed on society. The societal
lifetime costs of the projected virgin
plastic produced in 2040 (lifetime cost of
plastic excluding the market cost) could
reach more than US$7.1 trillion (+/-US$2.2
trillion), equivalent to approximately 85%
of global spending on health in 2018 and
greater than the GDP of Germany, Canada,
and Australia in 2019 combined .19
production is expected to more than double by
2040 and plastic pollution in the ocean is expected
to triple.20
At that point, plastic would account for


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of TCoPS

TCoPS - 1
TCoPS - 2
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