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Single-use plastic is driving the pollution and climate crises

Guest Author | 15 March 2023

Plastic pollution is viewed by many as an unsightly stain on the landscape, which conscientious consumers might quickly remedy. Yet, as Dr Marcus Gover, Director of the Plastics Initiative at Minderoo Foundation, explains, the rising production of single-use plastic is proving to be more than just a threat to the aesthetic appearance of our waterways and coastlines.

Plastics and climate change

More single-use plastic is being produced than ever before. Simply put, that means more plastic, more waste and more pollution. That’s not just my passing observation; this is the findings of a new Minderoo Foundation report highlighting that despite rising consumer awareness, corporate concern, and tougher regulation, there is more single-use plastic waste than ever before. We are just not making enough progress.

The Plastic Waste Makers Index 2023 recently revealed that the global population used 139 million tonnes of single-use plastic in 2021, up from 133 million tonnes in 2019. That’s an increase of almost one kilogram of single-use plastic per person on the planet. And you might also be shocked to learn that the inevitable waste from single-use plastic spoils more than the view.

That’s because single-use plastic is not only a pollution crisis but a climate one. Our team found that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 were equivalent to those of the United Kingdom or of Australia. Just think for a moment about the impact climate change has had on fires and floods across Australia and the world, and ask yourself what part you can play in reducing the harm to vulnerable communities.

Small steps 

You might feel that the problem is too great and that there is nothing you can do. But while not the sole cause of climate change, single-use plastics are a significant contributing factor, so the action you take will make a difference. Small changes to our everyday lives can leave a lasting positive impact on this planet.

As a follower of the Plastic Free Foundation, you’ll already know ways to drastically reduce your use of plastic. However, the Plastic Waste Makers Index has shown that drastic measures are needed beyond the actions of consumers.

Big impact

The Index revealed that recycling is not growing quickly enough and that the increase in primary single-use plastics derived directly from fossil fuels was 15 times greater than those derived from recycled materials. In fact, 98% of single-use plastic still comes directly from fossil fuels. I was really shocked by this number. It is time for the petrochemical industry to acknowledge that they are a part of the problem and commit to finding safe and sustainable alternative solutions to allow our children and grandchildren to grow up without plastic pollution.

That is why our team at Minderoo Foundation remains focused on eliminating the damage to us and our planet that plastics can cause. We will continue to work tirelessly with industry, scientists, financiers, governments and others to develop practical solutions and drive change. With your commitments throughout July and the rest of the year, together, we can protect our planet for future generations.

Discover more about our work and our vision for a world without plastic pollution at

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What you can do to avoid plastic

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