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Plastics Reduce Environmental Cost Nearly 4x Compared to Alternatives

Nov 2016

A recent study by Trucost, “Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs, and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement,” builds on its earlier research for the UN Environment Program on the environmental costs of using plastics. The new research compares the environmental costs of using plastics to alternative materials and identifies opportunities to help lower the environmental costs of using plastics in consumer goods and packaging.

Disrupting a Common Misperception Around Plastics

The study finds the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer goods and packaging is nearly 4 times less than it would be if plastics were replaced by alternative materials.

Trucost found that replacing plastics in consumer products and packaging with a mix of alternative materials that provide the same function would increase environmental costs from $139 billion to $533 billion annually.

Other Key Findings:

  • The environmental cost of plastics in consumer goods is 3.8 times lower than the alternative materials that would be needed to replace plastic.
  • $7.6 billion in environmental costs could be saved if the global plastics industry doubled its use of electricity from low-carbon sources such as wind, solar, and hydro power.
  • $10.6 billion in environmental cost savings could be achieved through a 20% improvement in the fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet used to transport plastics.
  • Moving to a more circular economy can reduce the environmental costs of plastics, including an estimated $7.9 billion from the recycling of post-consumer plastics and minimizing landfilling.
  • Capturing plastic waste before it reaches the ocean could cut ocean costs by over $2.1 billion.

Read the full study here.