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Manufacturers and consumers should share the burden of the world’s plastic packaging waste – ScienceDaily


Plastic packaging waste is everywhere. Our plastic bottles, food packaging and food bags litter the landscape and pollute the environment.

The Great Pacific Garbage Spot, an area twice the size of Texas, is made up of plastic waste from around the world carried by currents to the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Floating waste breaks down into microplastics consumed by fish and in turn by people who eat that fish.

Only about 14.5% of plastic waste in the U.S. is recycled; most end up in landfills, where degradation takes hundreds of years. The United States and other developed countries have traditionally shipped plastic waste to Asia, but many developing countries are now refusing to accept more waste.

A new study by an international team of researchers explores global models of plastic packaging waste. The study shows that three countries – the US, Brazil and China – are the main suppliers of waste.

“We wanted to keep track of plastic packaging waste built into the global supply chain. This work allows us to conclude that the problem is the responsibility that is shared between economic agents, from producers and their intermediaries to retailers and consumers, ”says the study. -author Sandy Dahlerba, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Consumers (ACE) and Director of the Center for Climate, Regional, Environmental and Trade Economics (CREATE) at the University of Illinois.

Dahlerba and his colleagues measured transaction flows with plastic packaging waste based on a global multi-regional I / O database called EXIOBASE, combined with World Bank data.

The researchers found that North and South America together account for 41% of world production of plastic packaging waste, mostly from the United States (19% of world production) and Brazil (13%). Next is Europe with 24%, and Asia with 21%, most of which is generated in China (12%).

When looking at consumers, North and South America are again responsible for the most waste. Collectively, America accounts for 36% of world consumption of plastic packaging, followed by Asia with 26% and Europe with 23%.

“Foods high in protein, such as meat, fish and dairy, are a trademark in America, and they create a lot of plastic packaging waste,” Dahlerba explains. “For example, every 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of fish consumed will result in an average of about 1.6 kg (2.5 pounds) of waste. This includes plastic bags, trays and cellophane used to wrap and cover the fish during transportation, storage and sale. ”

International exports exacerbate the problem, accounting for about 25% of the world’s plastic packaging waste.

“Plastic is not easy to replace. There is no other material that would protect the freshness of food that will be shipped around the world, ”he said. “We need to further develop technologies that make plastics more biodegradable, such as algae-based products. But we also need stricter rules to prevent the production and use of plastic packaging. “

International agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, typically focus on restrictions and levies on production. But it gives developed countries a strong incentive to move their most polluting activities to developing countries. Globally, it’s a zero-sum game because you’re just delegating the problem to another location, Dalerba notes.

Researchers conclude that producers and consumers should share responsibility and costs.

“All supply chain agents and end consumers need incentives to reduce plastic use. Some examples are taxes on waste management or the return of plastic bottles, ”said Xiang Gao, the newspaper’s lead author. Gao is a Research Fellow at the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing, China.

“Other steps include a ban on disposable plastic straws or the introduction of fees for plastic bags in grocery stores,” he added. “Consumption of seasonally grown products locally would help, as well as improve the transparency of genuine processing associated with the resin identification code embossed on the plastic packaging.”

Gao began work on the study when he was a visiting scientist in Dahlerby’s research group in U of I. Among other co-authors were Cuihong Yang, a professor at the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science, CAS; Andre Avelina, Research Fellow, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and Brenna Ellison, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics and the Center for Climate Economics, Regional, Environmental, and Commerce (CREATE) are located in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.

This study was supported by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economy, the Center for Climate, Regional, Environmental and Trade Economics (CREATE), as well as the National Science Foundation of China and the China Scholarship Council.

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