Plastics and chemicals

The problem and global challenge

Plastic, that ubiquitous material of modern life, has become one of the main sources of waste pollution. The improper disposal of plastic in all its forms and wastes is causing serious damage to public health, the environment and the climate.

Global plastics production was estimated at 288 million metric tons in 2012, which is growing at a rate of 4% annually. Plastic waste is an ever-increasing problem, with 95% of all plastics ending up as waste after just one year. Additionally, a third of all plastics packaging material, which represents 26% of all plastic production, never even reaches the waste collection system, instead much of it will end up in our oceans. Estimates put the amount of plastic in our ocean at 150 million tonnes, which will equate to more plastic then fish by weight by 2050.

While much of plastic pollution constitutes macro plastics, micro plastics, either in their primary or secondary form, have become of increasing concern especially in the context of marine pollution. Personal care products such as toothpaste and skin care products, synthetic textiles such as blankets, fleeces or shirts, and industrial
sources such as plastic resin pellets used in industrial feedstocks are the source of primary micro plastics.

Our key global challenge is to properly manage waste and plastics in a way that will not further harm human health and already-fragile ecosystems, and not cause further and irreversible damage to the climate. Virtually all plastics are derived from fossil fuels representing about 8% of global oil consumption, both as the raw material (4%) and for energy in the manufacturing process (4%). It is expected that by 2050, in a business-as-usual scenario, the plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil consumed and will account for 15% of global annual carbon emissions (for a below 2°C budget) by 2050.