Earth reaches plastic overshoot day for the first time ever

by Oceanographic Staff | Jul 31,2023

New landmark data, published by PLASTEAX, the first platform to offer plastic waste management data at both country, polymer and format specific levels, reveals the 28th July as the exact moment humans can no longer properly manage the plastic waste produced annually. It further notes that over 68.5 million tonnes of short-life plastic will be mismanaged and pollute the environment this year alone, and that plastic production is set to triple by 2060 if business-as-usual continues.

The landmark date has been announced for the first time internationally this year to raise awareness of the growing global plastic menace. Despite increased eco-consciousness and rising recycling capabilities globally, plastic production has increased 20 times more rapidly than the recycling capacity over the past ten years, according to Earth Action.

The inaugural ‘Plastic Overshoot Day’ highlights the point at which global waste management systems can no longer handle the material effectively. Prior to 28th July, the research and report from Swiss-based research consultancy Earth Action shows plastic waste has been well-managed this year, meaning it is collected and then either recycled, incinerated, or deposited in a sanitary landfill. However, with global production of short-life plastic expected to reach 159 million tonnes in 2023, the international capacity for managing plastics without leakage will no longer meet demand for the rest of the year.

As a result, 43% of all plastic waste is projected to be mismanaged at the end of its life – equivalent to more than 68.5 million tonnes of short-life plastics polluting the environment this year alone. This includes a devastating 420,000 tonnes of chemical additives released into waterways.

Julien Boucher, founder and CEO at Earth Action said that 28th July “should be a pivotal moment in the global plastic waste crisis”. He continued: “We all have a crucial role to play in this crisis. Now what is required is extensive and ambitious interventions from global governments and corporations, who can lead the change towards sustainable production practices. Without this, the Plastic Overshoot Day date will only be brought forward every year. If we can measure and report our carbon footprints, why can’t we do the same for plastic?”

The report also highlights that the plastic waste crisis disproportionately impacts the countries in the Global South. Countries such as Bangladesh, Ecuador, India and South Africa are some of those in the Global South defined by EA Earth action as “waste sponges”, a country that has low consumption of plastic yet a high level of plastic pollution arising from it through plastic imports. Collectively, the “waste sponge” countries account for 66.86 days out of the total 157 days of plastic overshoot projected to occur in 2023.

plastic overshoot day

Earth Action is now urging all governments, corporations, and individuals to become aware of their own ‘plastic footprint’ and take decisive actions that align the amount of waste introduced to the market with existing waste management capacities.

The report includes ten country archetypes which profile every country in the world, enabling each to have tailored policy recommendations to their unique circumstance.

John Duncan, global initiative lead at WWF said: “We cannot simply keep producing plastic, much of it unnecessary, without addressing the significant costs that the plastic pollution crisis imposes on the planet. For too long, the inequalities inherent in the current plastics system have kept the plastic pollution problem out-of-sight and out-of-mind for many, with the social, economic, and ecological burden being borne by lower income countries and poorer communities. While improving global waste management capabilities will help, we need to focus our efforts on upstream reduction and design of the system, which is where the biggest opportunities lie.”

To see the full report and every country’s very own plastic overshoot day, see below.

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