Who Pays for Plastic Pollution?

Despite what we’ve been told, plastic is not cheap. Its production and disposal—and the pollution it causes come with high social, environmental, and economic costs, borne primarily by communities and governments.

Moreover, there are disparities in the distribution of these costs within and between countries. A WWF-commissioned report developed by Dalberg reveals for the first time the scale of these disparities. It estimates that the true full lifetime cost of plastic is eight times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. For low-income countries in particular, the full lifetime cost of plastic rises to 10 times that of high-income countries.

In the absence of global regulation and standards, communities across low- and middle-income countries are being exposed to the most harmful effects of plastic production and pollution, including air pollution, increased risk of flooding, the spread of infectious diseases, threats to livelihoods, and unsafe working conditions.

These exposures and risks at a local and global level reflect important structural inequities across the entire plastic value chain. Despite national and voluntary efforts, plastic pollution has only got worse and it’s set to triple by 2040 unless urgent action is taken. A comprehensive approach featuring jointly developed global rules, accompanied by effective means of implementation, would empower low- and middle-income countries with more control over the plastics in their markets, increase the value of end-of-use plastics, and remove the most harmful and problematic plastics that are most costly to manage and which damage human health and pollute the environment. The negotiations of a global treaty to end plastic pollution which commenced in March 2022 present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the plastic pollution crisis once and for all.