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Global plastics and waste flows

A pilot study published in October 2019 provides for the first time an overview of global plastics flows. The Global Plastics Flow study with data from 44 countries also documents the current status of the circular economy worldwide and how much plastic waste is still disposed of improperly or is discharged carelessly into the environment.

For the pilot study, data was collected from 44 countries worldwide on the production, processing and waste treatment of plastics, and collated to form an overall picture. These countries account for around 60 percent of the world population and around 80 percent of GDP. The pilot study represents the very first attempt to document the entire global plastic flow from production right the way through to waste treatment. There are naturally considerable differences between one country and another with regard to the availability of data and its quality. In many countries in which such flows are not recorded statistically, the authors of the study had to depend on secondary sources such as scientific articles, information and analyses from plastics associations or even newspaper reports. From this information, they produced a harmonised overall picture that is nevertheless still dependent at many points on extrapolations.

Against this background, the study reveals the following main results on the basis of the year 2018:

  • Production: Worldwide, 360 million tonnes of virgin plastic are produced.
  • Processing: In addition to the 360 million tonnes of virgin material, there are a further 30 million tonnes of recyclate, which means that a total of 390 million tonnes of plastics are processed every year.
  • Post-consumer waste: From the total volume of used plastics goods, around 250 million tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste are produced per year.
  • Waste management: Of this, around 173 million tonnes are collected (either formally by communal or private waste management firms or informally by waste collectors, organised groups or smaller companies). Of this, around 50 million tonnes find their way into recycling, 51 million tonnes go into energy recovery and 72 million tonnes end up on an official landfill.
  • Waste discharges into the environment: 63 million tonnes of plastic waste are disposed of improperly, for example on unofficial dumps, and around 14 million tonnes are discharged carelessly and end up in the environment.

Evaluating the results, the partners participating in the study agree that the key to preventing discharges of plastic waste into the environment is the organised collection, sorting and reuse of the plastic waste. With the study, they want to stimulate global discussion on suitable measures to combat littering. At the same time, they want to provide a basis for further studies in order to expand the data obtained in this initial study and/or to verify it.

The study was carried out by Conversio Market & Strategy GmbH in close cooperation with various associations of the Global Plastics Alliance and numerous other institutions. It was commissioned by the following partners: BKV GmbH, EUROMAP Europe's Association for plastics and rubber machinery, the GKV (German Association of Plastics Converters), the GPA Global Plastics Alliance, IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. (German Plastics Packaging Industry Association), the K trade fair in Düsseldorf, and the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery.

A management summary of the study can be downloaded here free of charge (in English): www.bkv-gmbh.de/en/info-zone/studies.  

Sources:

  • Global Plastics Flow Study 2918
  • Press release from the participating associations and organisations (15.10.2019)