New Delhi: The number of plastic bags consumed worldwide per minute is enough to wrap around the earth seven times every hour, stated UN Environment in its first such comprehensive report on plastic pollution.

The report which covered data from at least 60 countries was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UN Environment’s executive director Erik Solheim on the occasion of World Environment Day, which was centred on the theme of beating plastic pollution.

According to the report, one to five trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, which roughly amounts to a maximum ten million plastic bags per minute. “If tied together, all these plastic bags could be wrapped around the world seven times every hour," highlights the report citing the estimate by Washington-based Worldwatch Institute in 2002 and assuming that the number has remained stable since then.

The report warns that if current consumption patterns do not improve, there will be about 12 billion tons of plastic litter in land-fills and natural environment by 2050.

The situation would be grimmer for marine life as 15% of marine species affected by ingestion and entanglement from marine litter are already endangered and 600 marine species are at risk. As per the estimate, by 2050, 99% of sea-birds would have ingested plastic.

Developed in co-operation with ministry of environment, forest and climate change, the report draws case studies from as many as 60 countries have imposed ban and levies on single-use plastic.

“The enforcement of regulation has often been poor and single-use plastic bags continue to be widely used and mismanaged despite prohibitions," stated the report, which found that 15% of these countries reported no impact of the ban, while reduced consumption was seen in 30% of them. Data was not available for the rest 50%.

Elaborating on India, it stated, “High plastic consumption rates and improper waste handling has increased the amount of environmental pollution in India, with plastic litter becoming an eyesore in many places."

Since, the production of plastic is largely reliant on fossil hydrocarbons, which are non-renewable resources, the report emphasized that this is set to pose a major hindrance in government’s push for renewable energy. “If growth in plastic production continues at same rate, the plastic industry may account for 20% of world’s total oil consumption by 2050," it stated.

Citing the recent figures by World Economic Forum, it states that only 14% global plastic packaging waste is recycled.

Among its key recommendations, the report suggests that governments give boost to the local recycling industry and create job opportunities in the plastic recycling industry, from the revenue generated from imposing levy on single-use plastic.

The report also took note of resistance from plastic industry which will be impacted by the ban and lead to job losses and recommended tax rebates and financial incentives to help them adapt to transition and stimulate production of cost-effective alternatives to plastic bags.

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