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Intelligence: The Real Cost of Plastic

Source: Pawel Czerwinski
AfricaAsiaBeautyEuropeFood & BeverageNorth AmericaOceaniaPackagingSouth AmericaTextiles

Sophie Benson

For decades, one argument has been a brick wall in the path of the push against plastic: “but it’s cheap”. And it is, due to multi-level subsidisation along the entire value chain, spanning everything from fossil fuel feedstocks to chemical plants

Unsurprisingly, brands find saying no to such a cheap and versatile material difficult. Even as evidence of the social and environmental dangers of plastic has stacked up (plummeting fertility rates, extensive marine pollution, and the so-called “toxicity debt” to name just a few), and as myriad viable alternatives have emerged, the use of plastic has only increased. Under BAU, we can expect the plastic industry to use a 19% share of the carbon budget by 2040, and by 2060, we can expect global plastic waste to almost triple.

But the clock is ticking on the ‘cheap’ argument because it is increasingly necessary to factor in the costs associated with the continued use of plastic: environmental clean-ups, healthcare, climate-related relocation, and costs to the wider economy. The USD 216 billion that plastic marine debris will cost APAC economies in 2050, for instance, will not necessarily be factored into the market price of plastic, but it’s a cost that will be shouldered by many. Far from a bargain.

It’s undeniable that such external costs may not convince those who are focused solely on corporate finances, but more tangible recalculations are on the horizon too which will skew the balance sheets. The rise in oil prices has directly impacted the price of plastic but we know market prices can drop as quickly as they rise. Rather than one single cost driver, it’s the convergence of a plethora of external factors, from legislation and taxes to legally binding global agreements, which are set to rock plastic’s position as a cheap first-choice material.

The continued use of plastic as the economical choice is a here-and-now decision, but as we unpick its real cost, the necessity of long-term thinking and pre-emptive materials and system shifts will become crystal clear.


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