Understanding plastics pollution: The role of economic development and technological research
Our world is awash with plastic. The massive increase in plastics production, combined with a shift to single-use, disposable plastics and widespread mismanagement of plastic waste, has created a huge “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968) in our oceans, seas and waterways. Plastics pollution is now a global externality that damages ecosystems, curtails biodiversity and ultimately has the potential to affect everyone on the planet. Although waste output is often modelled separately from environmental pollution in research, in the case of plastics, the waste problem has become one of global pollution. In this paper, we model the relationship between mismanaged plastic waste and income per capita for 151 countries, and for the first time find empirical support for the environmental Kuznets curve using plastics pollution data. Further, we find support for the hypothesis that a key instrument for reducing plastics pollution is investment in scientific and technological research. The paper concludes with a discussion of the results, limitations, and implications for future research and practice.