Plastics in the global environment assessed through material flow analysis,degradation and environmental transportation
Knowledge on environmental plastic emission and spatial and temporal accumulation is vital for the development of successful mitigation strategies and risk assessments of plastics. In this study, emissions of both micro and macro plastic from the plastic value chain to the environment were assessed on a global level through a mass flow analysis (MFA). All countries, 10 sectors, 8 polymers and 7 environmental compartments (terrestrial, freshwater or oceanic) are distinguished in the model. The results assess a loss of 0.8 million tonnes (mt) of microplastics and 8.7 mt of macroplastics to the global environment in 2017. This is respectively 0.2 % and 2.1 % of plastics produced in the same year. The packaging sector contributed most for macroplastic emissions, and tyre wear for microplastic emissions. With the MFA results, accumulation, degradation and environmental transportation are considered in the Accumulation and dispersion model (ADM) until 2050. This model predicts macro- and microplastic accumulation in the environment to 2.2 gigatonnes (Gt) and 3.1 Gt in 2050 respectively (scenario: yearly consumption increase of 4 %). This will be 30 % less when a yearly production reduction of 1 % until 2050 is modeled to 1.5 and 2.3 Gt macro and microplastics respectively. Almost 2.15 Gt of micro and macroplastics accumulate in the environment until 2050 with zero plastic production after 2022 due to leakage from landfills and degradation processes. Results are compared to other modeling studies quantifying plastic emissions to the environment. The current study predicts lower emissions to ocean and higher emissions to surface waters like lakes and rivers. Non aquatic, terrestrial compartments are observed to accumulate most plastics emitted to the environment. The approach used results in a flexible and adaptable model that addresses plastic emissions to the environment over time and space, with detail on country level and environmental compartments.
Mass flow analysis
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Environment & Sustainability
Schience of the total environment, 875 (875), 1-14