A new study has found there was 139 million metric tonnes of plastic waste worldwide as of 2021 – that’s the most plastic waste ever recorded and an increase of six million metric tonnes since 2019. The study was produced by the Minderoo Foundation, a philanthropic organisation funded by Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola Forrest.
The 139 million tonnes of plastic waste worldwide is almost entirely single-use plastic (i.e. not made from recycled materials). As well as affecting the physical environment, the use of fossil fuels like oil and gas to make plastic means it also has a large carbon footprint. The report estimates the emissions footprint from plastic production in 2021 was equivalent to the UK’s total emissions.
The report also named the companies who made the largest contribution to plastic generation. Among the worst were oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, Sinopec and Saudi Aramco, and chemical producers Dow and Indorama Ventures. These five were also the worst plastic-related emitters.
The report authors recommended limiting fossil fuel-based plastic production, including by adding plastic-generated emissions into climate targets. They also recommended a global target for 20% of plastics to be made of recycled materials by 2030 and a global fund to improve waste management practices in the countries with the worst plastic pollution.