Plastic forks and cutlery in nature

15 May 2023


New research has identified the most damaging single-use plastic products that are polluting the environment and could be banned in Australia and globally as part of a plastic pollution treaty.

WWF is calling on governments to support global bans and phase outs of these ‘most high-risk and unnecessary’ plastic items – such as vapes, cigarette filters, cutlery, wet wipes, and microplastics – ahead of UN plastic pollution treaty talks taking place in Paris from 29 May. 

Single-use plastic bag floating with a school of fish in a shallow reef
Single-use plastic bag floating with a school of fish in a shallow reef © Shutterstock / John Cuyos / WWF

The new reports published today – commissioned by WWF and conducted by Eunomia – reveal the most damaging plastic products and propose global control measures to eliminate, reduce or safely manage and circulate these plastics.

WWF is calling for these measures to be included in the plastic treaty text – and introduced in Australia.

Australia has just announced a ban on all single-use, disposable vapes. But Kate Noble, No Plastics in Nature Policy Manager for WWF-Australia, said the situation on plastics locally remains a mess.

“Plastic bans vary from state to state, action on some of the most polluting products like cigarette butts is lacking, and we’re starting to see fossil fuel plastics being replaced with bio-based plastics, when we really need to be moving away from single-use products altogether,” said Ms Noble.

“These require huge amounts of resources to make – oil, trees and energy – and become waste after minutes of use, straining our waste management systems and polluting our precious places."

“The plastic pollution treaty currently being negotiated by UN member states is a major focus for the Australian Government, which is great news for our environment and wildlife."

“But we don’t need to wait for a treaty to be a world leader in this space. We’re calling for a national approach to reducing plastic consumption and pollution that bans the most harmful plastics and chemicals, boosts our repair and reuse economy, and makes it easier for all Australians to make sustainable choices."

“Australia is a wealthy country, but we aren’t doing much better than the global average when it comes to plastic recovery and recycling,” she said.

Less than 10% of plastic products are recycled globally.

Australia is one of the biggest consumers of single-use plastic per person in the world, and we recycle only 14% of plastics. Globally, most of the plastic ever produced has reached the end of its life and been discarded. 

“We’re locked into a system where we’re now producing quantities of plastic well beyond what any country can properly deal with, resulting in a plastic pollution crisis affecting the environment as well as society,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Special Envoy.

“If we don’t take action right now, the situation’s only going to get worse. On our current trajectory, by 2040 global plastic production will double, plastic leakage into our oceans will triple and the total volume of plastic pollution in our oceans will quadruple. We cannot allow this to happen."

“Plastic pollution is a global problem that requires a global solution. Negotiators must heed the guidance in this report and work together to create a treaty with comprehensive and specific binding global rules that can turn the tide on the plastic crisis."

“There’s no logical reason to keep many single-use plastic products in circulation globally when we know they’re causing so much damage; polluting waterways and choking the oceans and entering our own food chain.”

Following a promising start at the first Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC) meeting last year, negotiators must now flesh out the details of the treaty text to effectively and fairly tackle plastic pollution.