Economic Impact Of Plastic

This is a short guide outlining the economic impact of plastic across key areas in society.


Summary – Economic Impact Of Plastic 

The plastics industry as a whole, and individual plastic industries (like plastic packaging for example), have a significant beneficial economic impact on the global economy

These benefits include economic stimulus from the activities they allow us to carry out, but also the creation of jobs, and cost savings in areas like production resource efficiency, savings and efficiency in transport, preservation of food and prevention of food waste, and so on

However, plastic also has a cost associated with plastic pollution clean up, plastic waste management, depletion of natural resources and ecosystems from plastic, and the potential economic impact of plastic on human health (just to name a few of the key costs)

At this stage, because of unquantifiable costs and unspecified issues and problems that plastic might cause (that we lack research and definitive studies on … such as the impact of BPA, phthalates, plastic leaching, and micro and nano plastics) – it’s hard to say whether plastic creates a net economic gain or loss for the world.

Read more about the potential overall pros and cons of plastic in this guide

Read more about potential solutions to plastic problems, and how we might start moving towards a better economy with plastic in it in this guide


Value Of The Plastic Industry To The Economy

Right now, the value of the plastic industry is estimated at:

  • The global market for plastic products … was worth $1.1 trillion in 2016
  • The biggest segment is plastics packaging materials and unlaminated film and sheet manufacturing, which accounts for about 20% of the total.



Future Value Of The Plastics Industry To The Economy

In the future, forecasts of the value of the plastic industry are estimated at:

The global market for plastic products is growing at about 3% year on year … [and it] will grow to $1.2 trillion by 2020 (

The Global Plastics Market is expected to reach USD 654.38 billion by 2020 (


Value Of The Plastic Packaging Industry To The Economy

  • The market for plastic packaging has grown by 5 percent annually since 2000.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, plastic grew from 17 percent to 25 percent of the global share of material used for packaging.
  • In 2013, the industry put 78 million tons of plastic packaging on the market, valued at US$260 billion.



Unquantified Economic Benefits Of Plastic

Plastic delivers many direct economic benefits and can contribute to resource efficiency. It reduces food waste by increasing shelf life, and its relative light weight reduces fuel consumption for transporting goods (

Plastic also has other important uses and important benefits that allow economies and societies to perform critical functions and activities


How Many Jobs Does The Plastic Industry Create?

[In the US, plastic industry employment varies state to state, but] the total number of employees is 1.76 million (


Is Plastic Recycling Profitable?

Only some types of plastic are recyclable, and only some types of plastic and plastic products/items are profitable to recycle

One of the problems with recycling plastic is that it loses it’s quality and economic value every time it is recycled (because of the nature of plastic fibres and how they degrade every time they are recycled or downcycled)

Read more about the pros and cons of recycling plastic in this guide.


Cost To Clean Up Plastic Litter On Land

Some estimates put the cost to clean up litter in the US alone at 11 billion dollars a year, or 30 cents for each piece of litter


Cost To Clean Up Plastic In The Ocean

  • [plastic] has a wider and harder to quantify economic impact on lost marine life or reduced beach and water quality … These damages, estimated at US$1.25 billion annually, imply that recovering marine plastics is worthwhile. But … research suggests that it might not be financially viable to do so.
  • Plastic causes $13 in damages per kilogram per year



  • According to a study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, plastic pollution in the ocean costs society up to $2.5 trillion a year.



  • Plastics finding their way into the world’s oceans costs approximately AUD$17.3 billion per year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems.
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) estimates that the cost to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was AUD$1.6 billion in [the Asia Pacific] region alone.
  • Local authorities have to bear the cost of cleaning up plastic litter from beaches, maintaining litter traps and bins etc. The cost on local government to manage litter in NSW [Australia] is … $132 million per annum.



It can cost $5 to remove a kilo of plastic from the Ocean, and sometimes, that kilo of plastic is only worth 30 cents in resale or market value


Cost Of Lost Plastic Waste

Prevalent in the plastic packaging industry:

  • 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80 billion to $120 billion, is lost to the economy. Much of it is wasted in a short, single-use, linear flow
  • Only 5 percent of the material value of plastic packaging is retained for subsequent use



Cost To Address Other Forms Of Plastic Pollution

  • Plastic waste is also believed to cost up to $33,000 per ton in reduced environmental value



Indirect Economic Costs Of Plastic, & Costs That Haven’t Been Quantified 

There is a cost of plastic in terms of lost income to other industries (such as the tourism industry), and the cost of plastic in terms of lost economic value overall to various parts of society (such as degradation of ecosystems and natural resources)

Other indirect economic costs could also include the cost to address unspecified environmental issues, human health issues, problems with wildlife, and so on

















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