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A world united

in the mission to

end plastic pollution

As the world grapples with the plastic pollution crisis, the ongoing UN negotiations represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a path towards a sustainable future.

‘Plastic Treaty Futures’ provides negotiators with a comprehensive analysis of four distinct scenarios for the legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. Detailed modelling illustrates the environmental and economic ramifications of varying levels of ambition and degree of coordination among member states.

The analysis demonstrates that only a legally binding treaty that incorporates ambitious action throughout the full plastic lifecycle globally significantly reduces plastic pollution by 2040. This path is not only environmentally sound, but also economically advantageous.

The report outlines a path towards meeting the objective of ending plastic pollution set by UNEA Resolution 5/14 and ensuring a sustainable future.

Framework for modelling alternative scenarios

The goal of this analysis is to encapsulate the diverse perspectives and priorities of member states, offering a comprehensive analysis of possible paths forward in the negotiations. Scenarios are differentiated along two critical axes, by the scope of action regarding the plastic lifecycle and the degree of collaboration and agreement at national or global level.

Lifecycle scope

Ranging from comprehensive strategies across the full plastic lifecycle to those with a more focused approach, concentrating on improving waste management.

Degree of coordination

This axis contrasts the level of international collaboration and agreement on legally binding global rules and ambitions with approaches that favour national action guided by non-binding targets and guidelines.

For more details on the Scenarios modelled, including policies included and assumptions on their respective ambition levels, click the button below:

How this model differs from previous models

This model builds on previous stock and flow models presented in Breaking the Plastic Wave, ReShaping Plastics and Achieving Circularity. In particular, the model expands on Towards Ending Plastic Pollution by 2040, which quantified a Global Rules Scenario (GRS) encompassing 15 policy interventions for the instrument across all main economic sectors and plastic applications. The Global Full Lifecycle Scenario described in this report is the same as the Global Rules Scenario described in Towards Ending Plastic Pollution by 2040.

The model incorporates the following innovations and additions:

  • modelling of four different scenarios for the instrument;
  • in-depth regional analysis, encompassing nine regions;
  • a new ‘upstream’ module that includes flows of the six largest groups of primary plastic polymers from production to conversion;
  • an assessment of economic activity across the value chain; and
  • the Scenario Explorer online tool, which allows stakeholders to see the impact of making different high-level assumptions.

The model also helped inform the report ‘The Plastic Pollution Fee: Closing the financing gap for implementing an ambitious global plastics treaty‘ (forthcoming) by the Minderoo Foundation outlining potential design options for a Plastic Pollution Fee that serves as an innovative funding mechanism.

We would also like to acknowledge the modelling efforts conducted by others, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Universities of California Berkeley and Santa Barbara, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the World Bank. Given the importance and complexity of modelling the global plastics system, it is encouraging to see differing approaches resulting in significant alignment in terms of the scale and nature of the policy interventions required.

The model includes all main economic sectors and plastic applications across nine regions:

Sector and geographic scope of modelling


Impacts of different

plastic treaty futures

UNEA Resolution 5/14 is a global call that ‘Business-as-Usual’ on plastic pollution is unacceptable. Aligned with other studies, our model projects that the volume of mismanaged plastic will grow by 87%

from 2019 to 2040, while GHG emissions from the plastic system are expected to increase by 63% during this period.

These trends will exacerbate other risks associated with plastic, including impacts on human health, ecosystems and biodiversity, and communities.

Plastic waste impacts

Only a scenario that combines a coordinated approach with comprehensive action across the plastic lifecycle will come close to ending mismanaged plastic waste by 2040

One critical element of plastic pollution is mismanaged plastic waste (plastic disposed of in dumpsites, burned in the open or released into the environment, and primary microplastics). Under Business-as-Usual, mismanaged plastic waste will nearly double, while the volume of total plastic waste generated is set to increase by 68%, and the volume of mismanaged plastic waste to increase by 87% by 2040.

End-of-life fate of plastic waste

Mt/year. All numbers are subject to rounding

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Note: Totals above bars exclude “plastics never made”, whereas the percentages refer to totals including such avoided plastics.

The scenarios adopting a full lifecycle approach will further reduce the volume of waste requiring controlled disposal due to a decrease in plastic use. Under the National Full Lifecycle Scenario, annual volumes of mismanaged plastics are 24% below 2019 levels, while requiring significantly less investment in landfill and incineration capacity than the Global Waste Management Scenario.

Under the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario, annual volumes of mismanaged plastics would decrease by 90% by 2040 compared to 2019 levels (97% relative to Business-as-Usual).

Mismanaged plastic waste across the globe

Due to inadequate waste management capacity, LMICs are the biggest sources of mismanaged plastic waste.

However, high-income countries bear a significant share of the responsibility for this, as companies headquartered in these countries design and bring to market most of the products that end up as mismanaged plastic waste in LMICs.

In addition, exports of plastic waste to regions without infrastructure to manage this waste has been a persistent problem.

The section ‘Funding required to tackle the regional waste management gap’ explores the amount of funding required to close the waste management gap in LMICs, which is essential for the instrument to succeed in tackling mismanaged plastic waste.

Addressing mismanaged plastic waste in LMICs is a critical challenge, which only the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario comes close to eliminating by 2040

Mismanaged waste in 2040 by region

Mt/year. All numbers are subject to rounding

Note: Our model estimates that LMICs account for >95% of mismanaged plastic waste in 2019.

Plastic production impacts

Comprehensive action across the lifecycle, such as limiting unnecessary use as well as adopting design for recycling and circular business models, can reduce demand for primary plastic production by 30% by 2040 compared to 2019

Demand for the services that plastic provides (‘plastic utility’) is expected to increase by 66% by 2040, due to growing populations and increasing per-capita consumption as incomes rise, primarily in LMICs. All alternative scenarios in this report meet the demand for plastic utility under Business-as-Usual, so the same level of consumer

value is delivered in all scenarios. However, the need for primary plastic may be replaced by secondary (recycled) plastics or alternative materials; by alternative models (eg, concentrate formats or reuse); or by the elimination of unnecessary uses of plastic (eg, overpackaging).

Sources of plastic utility

Mt/year. All numbers are subject to rounding

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By 2040, annual primary plastic production will decrease by 30% compared to 2019 levels – equivalent to a 60% reduction relative to the 2040 levels under Business-as-Usual.

When both primary and secondary plastics are counted, annual production by 2040 will still result in a 9% increase relative to 2019 levels, as expected population and consumption growth outpace reduction levers in some regions.

In the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario, elimination, reduction, substitution, reuse and other new delivery models will meet about 34% of plastic utility, while recycled plastics will account for more than a quarter of total utility.

Overall, this scenario could result in a sevenfold increase in global recycling output by 2040, achieved through the implementation of recycling targets, product design rules, EPR schemes and fees on primary plastics.

Greenhouse gas emission impacts

While the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario will reduce GHG emissions by around 40% relative to Business-as-Usual, more action is required to align the plastic system with the Paris Agreement
Greenhouse gas emissions 2019-2040

GtCO2e/year. All numbers are subject to rounding

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Under Business-as-Usual, annual GHG emissions are forecast to increase to 3.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2040. Under the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario, GHG emissions will drop back to around the levels seen in 2019 – about 40% below Business-as-Usual.

Significant additional measures will be required to align the plastic system with the Paris Agreement, such as further reductions in primary plastic production and decarbonisation of energy supply and production processes.

It is important to note that these projected emission levels may be underestimates, due to recent improvements in the data underlying the lifecycle assessment of fossil fuel-derived products. These corrections reportedly increase the average carbon footprint of fossil-based commodity plastics by around 30%. The analysis of GHG emissions covers production, without the extraction phase, and end-of-life carbon emissions only.
The use-phase emissions benefits of plastic (eg, insulation of buildings, light-weighting of vehicles, and more) are not quantified within this study although they are considered in the analysis (eg, in considering potential substitute materials).

Economic impacts

Inaction will be costly, as the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario will provide savings in cumulative public expenditure of around $200 billion compared to Business-as-Usual between 2026-2040

Action to tackle plastic pollution will not only yield environmental benefits, but also prove more economically efficient.

Inaction will prove costly, as the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario will yield significant savings in cumulative public expenditure compared to Business-as-Usual between 2026 and 2040.

Total cost for public sector

USD Billions, present value 2026-2040. All numbers are subject to rounding

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Savings from the full lifecycle scenarios will primarily accrue to regions with developed infrastructure; other regions will need to invest in expanding their waste management systems, resulting in $50 billion in additional public expenditure compared to Business-as-Usual

Total cost for public sectors

USD Billions (rounded to the nearest five billion USD), present value 2026-2040

For regions with lower infrastructure needs
For regions with higher infrastructure needs

These costs represent a significant budgetary burden for local authorities, especially as waste management already accounts for a large part of their expenditure. In providing these services, local authorities in LMICs receive vital assistance from the informal sector: today, an estimated 15-20 million informal waste pickers globally account for more than half of all collected and recycled plastic waste ↗.

At the same time, informal workers help reduce public sector expenditure on waste management. These crucial roles of the informal sector in waste management underscore the need for an inclusive just transition.

Costs of externalities

The economic case for action becomes even stronger when the costs of externalities are considered. The modelling for this report does not include the environmental and social externality costs related to plastic pollution, such as the costs of dealing with legacy plastics; the human and ecological impacts of chemicals (see Box 4); the social cost of GHG emissions; and the impact of mismanaged plastics on different industries (eg, fisheries, tourism, infrastructure). While they are complex to quantify and the scientific understanding is still evolving, it is clear that these externality costs are significant. For example, studies of the health impacts of plastic pollution point towards potential annual costs in the hundreds of billions in the United States alone. As these estimates are based on a limited subset of plastic chemicals and the associated health impacts, they likely understate the total health costs of these chemicals – let alone those ensuing from all plastic-related chemical exposures. These figures do not include other externality costs – such as the health impact of air pollution through open burning of waste, which disproportionately affects LMICs, or the contribution of plastics to climate change – and may thus underestimate the full economic losses resulting from the negative effects of plastics on human health and the environment.

Plastic-related economic activity will increase by 2040, and shift from plastic production to circular business models and materials management under full lifecycle scenarios compared to Business-as-Usual, resulting in value pools of $110 billion for recycling, $250 billion for substitutes and $230 billion for reuse

Economic activity in 2040 across the value chain

USD Trillions. All numbers are subject to rounding

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Overall, the levels of plastic-related economic activity by 2040 – measured here by the value pools for different steps along the value chain – are comparable across all scenarios. However, activity will shift from primary production towards circular business models and materials management, especially under the two full lifecycle scenarios. For instance, while primary production and conversion account for almost 70% of activity in 2040 under Business-as-Usual, this drops to 46% under the National Full Lifecycle Scenario and 40% in the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario respectively.

New value pools more than offset relative declines in selected activities across all regions, presenting opportunities for firms to diversify away from primary production

Change in economic activity in 2040 under Global Full Lifecycle Scenario compared to 2019

USD Billions. All numbers are subject to rounding

Plastic production is regionally concentrated. Across all regions, reductions in upstream activities under the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario compared to 2019 are more than offset by gains in circular business models. Furthermore, even under the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario – which will lead to the biggest fall in primary plastic production and conversion – these will be only marginally lower by 2040 than current levels, so economic and social dislocation should be limited.

Employment impacts

All future scenarios are expected to result in a similar level of direct employment, representing an increase in the number of jobs of around 70% compared to 2019

Employment across the plastic value chain by 2040

In Million jobs. All numbers are subject to rounding

While there is significant uncertainty surrounding job estimates, all scenarios are expected to result in a similar level of direct employment, at around 12 million jobs globally.

This increase in overall employment across the plastic lifecycle reflects the growing demand for the services that plastic provides. The focus of these jobs will shift from production to recycling, circular business models and waste management.

Funding required to tackle the regional waste management gap

As noted above, a critical driver of addressing mismanaged plastic waste is LMICs capacity to manage growing volumes of waste.

High-income countries have a responsibility to support them in this challenging task, due to their longstanding role in driving production, regulation and trade of plastics and plastic waste.

Public spending on plastic waste management by LMICs will need to increase significantly compared to 2019 levels to keep pace with population growth and increasing prosperity
Annual public spending required by low- and middle-income regions

USD Billions. All numbers are subject to rounding

Note: Includes spending on CAPEX and OPEX for collection, sorting, and disposal of plastic waste.

Assuming that LMICs maintain current levels of public spending, there is a $300 billion funding gap for plastic waste collection, sorting and disposal infrastructure and operations from 2026 to 2040 (or $900 billion including costs of managing organic waste) to enable the 90% reduction in mismanaged

waste by 2040 envisaged under the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario. This represents an average increase of almost 50% on current annual public spending levels across LMICs between 2026 and 2040.

LMICs face a funding gap of around $300B for public plastic waste management between 2026-2040 (around $900 billion including organic waste)
Cumulative public spending required in LMIC regions by scenario

Public spending 2026-2040. USD Billions. All numbers are subject to rounding

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The lower estimate accounts for the direct cost of managing plastic waste only; however, as plastic can rarely be collected in isolation, the higher estimate also takes into account the cost of collecting organic waste. While appropriately managing organic waste has several important benefits, including significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well as improved health and environmental outcomes, it represents a cost to overstretched public services in many LMICs. As plastic waste cannot generally be collected in isolation, ensuring sufficient general waste management capacity is also critical to enable successful management of plastic waste. Negotiators may therefore consider to what extent the wider costs of expanding waste management should be considered as part of designing financing mechanisms.

Mobilising funds of this magnitude should be a critical priority for negotiators in order to effectively address mismanaged plastic waste. A mix of funding mechanisms will likely be needed – for example, national and subnational government budget funds; direct service fees; EPR fees and fees on primary plastics; bilateral and multilateral funding; and increased revenues from plastic recycling enabled by eco-design requirements, recycled content mandates and improved recycling technologies.

Considerations on funding mechanisms

The scenarios vary in terms of the funding mechanisms they envisage. The Global Full Lifecycle Scenario assumes the global adoption of EPR schemes and the imposition of national/regional fees on primary polymer production as part of a wider package of policies. However, due to their national/regional nature, these schemes do not allow for funds to be channelled to the regions where they are needed most. Instead, the measures encompassed in this scenario will result in a financial surplus – even once all waste management (ie, not just for plastics) has been funded and 30% of the revenues generated have been invested in de-risking circular economy solutions. By contrast, a similarly designed fee assumed under the National Full Lifecycle Scenariog will fall far short of generating the funds needed to close the waste management gap outlined above.

Negotiators may thus wish to consider various alternative funding mechanisms. For example, the report The Plastic Pollution Fee (forthcoming) by the Minderoo Foundation outlines potential options for a fee that would serve as an innovative funding mechanism alongside EPR to meet these and other implementation costs (including supporting circular economy solutions, promoting a just transition, tackling legacy pollution and rolling out health initiatives). The proposed plastic pollution fee would redistribute revenues generated from global plastic production to LMICs and Small Island Developing States, ensuring that funds are available where they are most needed. A fee level of less than $100 per tonne on primary plastic polymer production globally would suffice to fund all of these implementation activities in LMICs to meet the objectives of the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario. The Minderoo paper is based on the same model and methodology as the scenarios presented in this report and was developed with analytical support by Systemiq.

Different funding mechanisms may have significant implications in terms of, for example, fiscal sovereignty or the ability to target spending towards waste management; but an exploration of these is beyond the scope of this report. Similarly, given the scale of the funding required, particularly in LMICs, the mix of funding mechanisms should consider and aim to minimize accessibility and affordability risks. For example, by relying more on redistributive measures rather than policies that affect prices in low income countries directly (e.g., EPR and Fees).

Health and environmental impacts

and the risks and impacts of plastics and associated chemicals

If plastic pollution continues at current levels and production increases as per the Business-as-Usual trajectory, the negative impacts on health, ecosystems and biodiversity could grow. Given the existing evidence, policies to address plastic pollution should take into account these risks across the plastics value chain. Regulation and business practices should aim to increase transparency and work towards eliminating or mitigating these risks (eg, through better management or innovation).

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More about Health, Environmental, Plastic & Chemical impacts

Chemicals and polymers of concern

Overall, more than 16,000 chemicals are potentially used or present in plastic materials and products. Over 4,200 of these are chemicals of concern due to their hazardous properties. Critically, hazard information is lacking for over 10,000 chemicals. Hazardous properties in this context include associated effects such as cancer risks, mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and ecotoxicity to aquatic organisms, impacting human health, ecosystems and biodiversity. Yet only 128 of these chemicals are regulated internationally.

There is an urgent need to tackle the use of chemicals that have the potential to cause human and environmental harm. The Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastic Treaty and the recent State of the Science on Plastic Chemicals report outline the relevant issues and how the instrument can address them. Recommendations include comprehensive and efficient regulation of plastic chemicals – for example, by grouping chemicals based on their structure to simplify categorisation and hazard-based prioritisation while avoiding regrettable substitutions (eg, to less well-studied chemicals presenting similar hazards). Another critical step will be to dramatically increase transparency (‘no data, no market’), to ensure that essential information about plastic chemicals is publicly available (eg, through a global inventory and comprehensive definitions). Measures such as negative lists of chemicals based on recognised hazard criteria and positive lists of chemicals that comply with hazard and safe-by-design criteria could be used to promote the redesign and simplification of plastics and the transition to a non-toxic plastic economy. Policies to increase capacity to effectively manage plastic chemicals and innovate for safer and sustainable plastics (eg, through knowledge sharing and cooperation) will also be needed. Similarly, various reports have called for the creation of a strong science-policy interface as part of the instrument (eg, through a subsidiary scientific body) to facilitate the regular, independent and evidence-based refinement of assessment criteria. Similar measures may also be needed for other material types, to guard against undesirable substitutions.

Plastic production

Virtually all plastic is made from fossil fuels such as crude oil, natural gas and coal. The environmental concerns associated with these industries are thus closely linked to plastic production – for example, negative impacts on workers exposed to hazardous substances; and on ecosystems and biodiversity through the contamination of water from fossil fuel extraction and spillage and the release of toxins during production. There is also evidence that production facilities expose surrounding communities to hazardous substances and cause adverse health effects.

Plastic use

Consumers are constantly exposed to plastics and plastic-associated chemicals. For example, of 419 chemicals found in plastic children’s toys, 126 were identified as of potential concern; while over 1,000 chemicals have been found to have migrated into food.

Mechanical recycling

Studies underline the need for further research on the possible negative impacts of mechanical recycling on human health, ecosystems and biodiversity, including the risk of reintroducing chemicals of concern as unwanted contaminants during the sorting and recycling process26 These studies indicate that informal workers are especially vulnerable to health impacts through unprotected exposure to heated plastics, plastic dust and fine particles, and to chemical pollution in the air. Finally, a recent study has indicated that recycling facilities – especially at the washing stage – can end up releasing microplastics into wastewater systems which, without filtration and controlled disposal, can then make their way into oceans and waterways.

Chemical recycling

Two main concerns have been raised regarding the potential negative impact of chemical recycling on human health. First, the emissions and discharge from chemical recycling processes contain hazardous chemicals, which may impact on nearby communities and environment; and second, substances of concern from feedstock waste can be reintroduced into output recyclates. Further research on both issues is needed.


Historically, there is evidence that incinerators contribute to environmental impacts due to inadequate emission controls. This can result in the release of pollutants (eg, dioxins, furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and particulate air pollutants) linked to a range of adverse health effects. Well-managed incinerators can minimise emissions by controlling combustion temperature, input composition, material flow speeds and gas flow cleaning; but this requires extensive management, which can be problematic in regions with limited resources or regulation.

Open burning

One self-management strategy which is frequently adopted by the roughly 2 billion people worldwide who lack formal waste collection services is to burn discarded plastic on open, uncontrolled fires. This contributes significantly to GHG emissions and the release of particulate matter, reactive trace gases and toxic compounds. These pose significant health risks, with waste pickers who lack safe workplaces and protective equipment most at risk.


Sanitary landfill standards vary and many countries have struggled to implement globally accepted standards, leading to post-landfill leakage of materials and leachates containing pollutants and microplastics. Measures including landfill liners can mitigate this risk somewhat. However, while macroplastics are unlikely to breach landfill liners, microplastics may pass through them; and even modern sanitary landfills present a risk of leachate contaminating groundwater. The long-term stability of landfill liners is unknown, but they are unlikely to function fully beyond 100 or 200 years.

Plastic alternatives and substitutes

As plastic alternatives are not without risk, a case-by-case analysis to prevent unintended consequences of substitution will be required in each context. As best practice, product lifecycle assessments (LCAs) should be conducted to measure the overall environmental, health and social impacts. This is also the case for safe reuse and refill models, and food contact materials that may go through multiple use cycles. Transparency on the types of substances used in plastic alternatives and their potential toxicological properties should also be considered (see note on ‘Chemicals and polymers of concern’ above).


Microplastics present a significant potential health risk without established safety thresholds, and have reportedly been detected in human placentas, blood, expressed breast milk, lungs and the plaques that block blood vessels in cardiovascular disease. Although the precise impact of this exposure remains unclear, the evidence calls for further examination of the potential threats that microplastics pose to human health. Ingested microplastics have been shown in vitro, in diverse human cells in culture, and in vivo, in diverse model organisms, to induce alterations in gene and protein expression, inflammation, disrupted feeding behaviour, growth inhibition, modifications in brain development and impaired filtration and respiration rates. Studies also suggest that nanoplastics may pose greater hazards than microplastics due to their higher likelihood of translocating beyond the gastrointestinal tract and acting as transmitters for chemical contaminants

Ecosystems and biodiversity

Extensive accumulation of plastic in the oceans and on land poses threats to ecosystems and biodiversity.  Marine plastic pollution is reported to negatively affect over 800 species. From coral reefs to deep sea trenches and from remote islands to the Poles, plastic alters habitats, harms wildlife and can damage ecosystem functions and services. Macroplastic waste in the environment can lead to fatalities, injuries and indirect harm such as malnutrition through ingestion or entanglement. Microplastics have been forecast to cause pervasive ecological damage if current or increased levels of release into the environment persist. Plastic-associated chemicals are known to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in marine food webs, while bioaccumulation of micro and nano-plastics has been demonstrated in some studies. Microplastics and the chemicals they contain can also move up the food chain.


Lessons from the Montreal Protocol

The scale of the system change required to tackle plastic pollution is immense. One example of a multilateral environmental agreement that has brought about such a global system change is the Montreal Protocol (1987), which effectively phased out the production of ozone-depleting substances. Like the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario, the Montreal Protocol was a comprehensive framework for international coordination.

The factors that were critical to the success of the Montreal Protocol included significant support from major manufacturers, the incorporation of effective trade mechanisms and the availability of effective alternatives that were reasonably affordable as well as profitable for producers.

To ensure that the legally binding instrument can be as similarly effective as the Montreal Protocol in tackling plastic pollution, countries and various industry players should come together in a coordinated way to adopt new solutions and business models at scale across the full plastic lifecycle, so that the economic and environmental benefits outlined in this report can be realised.


The ‘Plastic Treaty Futures’ report clearly demonstrates that the global mission to end plastic pollution demands a multifaceted approach. Comprehensive action across the entire plastic lifecycle, from production to disposal, is imperative. This strategy should be underpinned by robust, globally coordinated, legally binding measures. This dual approach is essential to make significant strides towards mitigating plastic waste and pollution on a global scale.

Focusing solely on downstream solutions, such as waste management, means that plastic volumes and the challenges of managing them will continue to increase. This limited scope is predicted to result in the persistent mismanagement of significant amounts of plastic waste and a failure to tackle pollution at its source.

Similarly, relying on national action alone, without a framework for international coordination, will fall short of the global response required to address the transboundary nature of plastic pollution. National efforts, while crucial, can lead to fragmented policies and efforts, diminishing their potential collective impact. The likely result is a patchwork of initiatives that, while beneficial locally, will fail to deliver the systemic changes needed to combat plastic pollution effectively.

The consequences of failing to take coordinated action across the lifecycle are not just environmental but also encompass higher levels of spending, economic inefficiencies and missed opportunities for innovation and sustainable growth. The analysis highlights that there are significant public cost savings and economic opportunities, including for primary plastic producers and converters, to be realised from a treaty that puts in place a globally harmonized framework for action across the full lifecycle.

The findings of this report underscore the need to embrace a full lifecycle approach to plastic management, underpinned by global coordination and legal commitments. Only through such a holistic strategy an the world meet the ambitious goal set by UNEA Resolution 5/14 to end plastic pollution.

Critical Findings

Based on extensive modelling of the environmental, economic, and social implications of four plausible versions of the instrument, ‘Plastic Treaty Futures’ reveals the following critical findings:

Inaction on plastic pollution is costly

‘Business-as-usual’ could lead to a near doubling of mismanaged plastic waste and a 63% rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040 compared to 2019 levels. Beyond the environmental costs, inaction will also prove costly, as comprehensive action could save $220 billion in public expenditure (between 2026 and 2040) by reducing municipal plastic waste management needs. While high-income countries could reduce their waste management spending by about $270 billion, this would be partially offset by a $50 billion increase in spending in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). These figures underscore the urgent need for action – even before the costs of externalities such as health impacts, biodiversity impacts and the social cost of GHG emissions are accounted for.

Fears of economic dislocation are misplaced

The modelling indicates that by 2040, plastic-related activity will shift from production towards circular business models and materials management, especially under the full lifecycle scenarios. This will result in the creation of value pools of $110 billion for recycling, $250 billion for substitutes and $230 billion for reuse – Across all regions, these new value pools more than offset limited declines in plastic production.

Funding mechanisms are needed to address the waste management gap

The scenarios will fail to tackle mismanaged plastic waste without significant funding to scale up effective waste management in LMICs. This will require public spending on plastic waste collection, sorting and disposal of $300 ($900 billion including organic waste) above current spending levels between 2026 and 2040. While the Global Full Lifecycle Scenario assumes the adoption of extended producer responsibility (EPR) and the imposition of national/regional fees on primary polymer production to enable a 90% reduction in mismanaged plastic waste, negotiators could embrace alternative funding mechanisms to achieve this.

Further action is required to address all aspects of plastic pollution

Additional measures are required to address other aspects of plastic pollution, such as health and biodiversity risks, and the climate crisis.

Only globally coordinated action across the full lifecycle can achieve a significant reduction in plastic pollution by 2040

The ‘Global Full Lifecycle Scenario’ reveals that a coordinated approach across the entire plastic lifecycle can cut mismanaged plastic waste by 90% by 2040 compared to 2019 levels. This involves upstream action to minimise unnecessary plastic use, alongside coordinated policies to align and streamline standards and regulations in order to reduce compliance costs and boost confidence in new sustainable solutions.

Waste management-focused and less comprehensive and less coordinated strategies will fall short

Even under optimistic assumptions, the ‘Global Waste Management Scenario’ – featuring coordinated downstream interventions – would achieve only a 20% reduction in mismanaged plastic waste by 2040 compared to 2019 levels; while the ‘National Full Lifecycle Scenario’ – involving ambitious but uncoordinated domestic action across the plastic lifecycle – could see a 25% reduction.

Employment will increase significantly

Across all scenarios, plastic-related activities are expected to generate about 70% more jobs compared to estimated 2019 levels. In the full lifecycle scenarios, these new jobs are shifted towards recycling, substitutes and new delivery models such as reuse, and waste management.

The just transition is a critical enabler

Measures to deliver a just transition could not be quantified but are essential to minimise harm to vulnerable communities, and to recognise and reward the key role of informal waste pickers in managing plastic waste.

Regional Analysis and Scenario Explorer tools provide further insight

This report is accompanied by online tools which allow stakeholders to explore insights at a regional level and assess the impacts of different ambition levels for different regions.

Regional Analysis tool ↗

Scenario Explorer Tool ↗

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Further Reading

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