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A Voice for our Ocean

REPORT: Ocean Conservancy Calls for Minimum 50% Global Reduction of Single-Use Plastics by 2050 from Floor of UN Plastics Treaty Talks

A 50% reduction in single-use plastics – which make up the bulk of pollution worldwide according to International Coastal Cleanup® data – would cut 2.6 billion metric tons of plastics.

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This would reduce emissions equivalent to taking every car on earth off the road for almost two years.

PARIS, FRANCE – Today, in a statement made from the plenary floor of the second round of global plastics treaty negotiations underway in Paris, Ocean Conservancy called on negotiators to include a minimum 50% global reduction target for single-use plastics by 2050 as a part of the international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution.

“Ocean Conservancy’s priorities for this International Legally Binding Instrument reflect those of our organization, and of our International Coastal Cleanup partner organizations in more than 100 countries around the world, who have removed hundreds of millions of single-use items from their local beaches and waterways. They are tired, and so are we,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, associate director of U.S. plastics policy at Ocean Conservancy and an environmental engineer who has helped draft landmark state and national legislation regulating plastic pollution in recent years.

“Ocean Conservancy hopes that this Instrument be designed to effectively carry out the needed system change to meet the urgency of this moment,” she continued. “Ocean Conservancy encourages negotiators to pursue a single-use plastics source reduction target in line with a minimum goal of 50% reduction by 2050, in combination with other measures to address the full lifecycle of plastics. This reduction would eliminate over 2.6 billion metric tons of plastics, which will result in avoiding the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as taking every car on earth off the road for over a year and a half.”

The statement refers to new estimates published today by Ocean Conservancy showing that a 50% reduction of single-use plastics by 2050 would:

  • Shrink annual global single-use plastic production from 300 million metric tons (MMT) in the business-as-usual scenario to roughly 77 MMT annually;
  • Eliminate over 2.6 billion metric tons of plastics; and
  • Prevent 10.8 to 11.5 billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions, equivalent to taking every car on earth off the road for 1.6 years.

This target would set the world on the path to achieve the necessary reductions modeled by numerous studies to reduce ocean plastic pollution and the sector’s associated climate emissions.

There is precedent for ambitious source reduction. In 2022, California passed the first legislation in the world mandating a 25% reduction in single-use plastic packaging and foodware over 10 years. Beyond establishing an ambitious model of subnational action, California’s large market size will drive innovation in upstream redesign and transformative business models (e.g., reuse and refill) that can enable the success of reductions at the global scale. Assuming the ILBI is signed, as intended, by 2025, this would provide more than double the amount of time (25 years) to achieve twice the level of reduction (50%) as required by law in California by 2050.

Single-use plastics are the ideal target for source reduction policies as they represent nearly 40% of annual plastics production globally, are one of the fastest areas for growth in the sector, and are the easiest to eliminate, replace with reuse and refill systems, or transition to more sustainable material types. Further, more than three decades’ worth of data from Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup® show that single-use plastics are among the most common items polluting beaches and waterways worldwide. Moreover, nearly 70% of the most commonly found items – which include single-use plastics like bags, food wrappers, straws and others – are not recyclable.

“The recipe for tackling the plastic pollution crisis is relatively simple: We need to make fewer plastics; better collect, manage and recycle the plastics we do use; and clean up what does get out in the environment,” said Nicholas Mallos, vice president of conservation at Ocean Conservancy and head of the organization’s ocean plastics program. “But if that’s the recipe, there is one principal ingredient: cut single-use plastics.”

Not only would cutting single-use plastics likely result in less plastic pollution; it would also help mitigate the climate crisis, as 99% of plastics are made of fossil fuels.

“Plastic pollution and climate change are major, interlinked threats, and for both we have to reduce plastics production,” said Aarthi Ananthanarayanan, director of Ocean Conservancy’s climate and plastics initiative. “The global plastics treaty is an opportunity for governments to make progress not just on the plastic pollution crisis, but on their climate commitments, as well. That’s a win for the ocean, and for the communities that live with the pollution from plastic – from where it’s made to where it ends up.”

Source reduction – any mechanism that results in a net reduction of plastics production and usage – is one of five priorities for Ocean Conservancy during the second session of the International Negotiating Committee (INC-2) for the ILBI. Other priorities include:

  • Addressing lost or abandoned fishing gear, also known as ghost gear – which is the deadliest form of plastic pollution in our ocean
  • Addressing microplastics, both those that are intentionally created small like cosmetic beads as well as those that break down from larger plastics
  • Incorporating the need to design plastics for circularity – in other words, requiring upstream redesign to ensure plastics can be reused or easily recycled again and again, without the need for chemical recycling and other harmful technologies
  • Including the voices of informal waste sector workers, who are responsible for collecting nearly 60% of all plastics recycled globally and often work in unsafe conditions

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address one of the greatest threats facing our ocean, and we have to get it right,” said Mr. Mallos. “The ocean has long been ground zero for the plastic pollution crisis, and what impacts the ocean impacts all of us.”

For the full source reduction analysis:



Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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