The impact of plastic on health and economies can be up to 10 times higher for low-income countries, despite using about three times less plastic than high-income countries, according to a new report,
The report, commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), identified three key inequities that have contributed to an uneven lifetime cost for plastics worldwide. In low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs), the total lifetime cost of a kilogram of plastic is estimated to be about $150, while high-income countries incur about $19 per kilogram.
Structural Inequities of the Plastics Economy
One major structural inequity that contributes to this disproportionate cost burden, according to the report, is the lack of influence LMICs have over which plastic products are produced.
Further, LMICs face an accompanying expectation to manage these plastics at end-of-life without having a say over their production. Product design considerations are typically made by companies headquartered in high-income countries, where currently, single-use plastic is still a common material of choice.
LMICs lack the technical and financial resources to manage the current, massive rate of plastic production, especially of single-use plastics. The report suggests that unless plastic production and consumption decrease, LMICs will continue to face the biggest burden of plastic pollution’s environmental and socio-economic impact.
Finally, there currently is an international lack of accountability for holding countries and corporations accountable for plastic generation, so a circular plastic economy is not well-enforced, legally or otherwise.
Report Informs Suggestions for UN Global Plastic Treaty
The United Nations will soon begin its third round of negotiations for its proposed plastic pollution treaty, aiming to have a legally binding agreement by 2024.
Based on findings from the report, the WWF calls upon governments to agree on a treaty that would help remove the identified inequities associated with plastic pollution. Their suggestions for the treaty include a ban or phase-out of high-risk and avoidable plastic products, global requirements to support product design for a circular economy, and financial support for LMICs during implementation of the agreed-upon rules.
The WWF emphasized that addressing the current impact of plastic pollution may not be left up to voluntary action and requires global regulation.
“The report signals the urgency of an immediate overhaul of the current plastic system,” said Alice Ruhweza, senior director of policy, influence, and engagement for WWF International. “Business-as-usual could be a death sentence, not only for a growing number of animals but also for many of our world’s vulnerable and marginalized communities as a result of increased health risks including ingestion of harmful, toxic chemicals and increased risk of flooding and disease. The global plastic pollution treaty is our chance to change this by including binding and equitable global rules on production and consumption.”