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What is Plastic Overshoot Day?

Learn about Plastic Overshoot Day, highlighting the dangers of the world’s plastic pollution problem.

Written by Adam Aucock | 24 Jan 2024

Collected plastic bottles at the site of a plastic bottle collecting company in Kinyamwezi, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Daniel Msirikale/Tearfund.

Collected plastic bottles at the site of a plastic bottle collecting company in Kinyamwezi, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Daniel Msirikale/Tearfund.

As we begin 2024, we have hope: this could be the year that we see governments around the world agree on a global plan to tackle plastic pollution! There are two more rounds of UN global plastics treaty negotiations this year, and things still hang in the balance as fossil fuel and petrochemical companies push back against a strong and legally binding treaty. So, how can we remain focused and remind ourselves of the impact that plastic pollution is having globally? 

This year, Tearfund is partnering with Earth Action to raise awareness of the impact plastic waste is having on those living in poverty around the world. Together, we’ll be marking Plastic Overshoot Day. But what exactly is it?

Plastic Overshoot Day explained

Plastic Overshoot Day marks the date when the amount of plastic waste produced across the world exceeds the capacity to safely manage it that year. You may have heard of Earth Overshoot Day, a similar concept, but this new one is focused on plastic. The results are shocking! 

The numbers are still being crunched for 2024 but last year Plastic Overshoot Day was 28 July, meaning that each year we are producing vastly more plastic waste than we can safely manage. If you’ve marked Earth Overshoot Day in previous years, you might have noticed something concerning: the date comes earlier each year. This means each year we’re using more resources faster than ever before. The trend in our plastic waste generation is no different.

The data also allows us to look more closely at specific countries, each with their own levels of plastic production, consumption and waste infrastructure, and calculate their individual Plastic Overshoot Day. Alarmingly, many of the countries where Tearfund works, and where people are living in extreme poverty, pass their Plastic Overshoot Day in January.

You can find out more about how Plastic Overshoot Days are calculated and the dates for more countries on the website.

Why does it matter?

While you may live in a country that has good recycling systems to deal with your plastic waste, that’s not the case for most of the world. Last year, four in ten people in the world were living in a country that passed its Plastic Overshoot Day in the first two weeks of January [1], leaving the vast majority of the plastic waste ‘mismanaged’.

Mozambique passed this threshold on 1 January. Other countries with Plastic Overshoot Days in early January include: Uganda (2 January), Kenya (5 January) and Brazil (8 January). 

Economically richer countries aren't immune to these problems. In 2023 the UK reached its own Plastic Overshoot Day on 17 November, 44 days before the end of the year. Similarly, countries such as the USA (30 November), Spain (31 October), Greece (31 May) and Japan (22 November) are unable to safely manage all of their plastic waste for the entire year.

A visualisation showing the different, country specific Plastic Overshoot Days for 2023. Image: Earth Action/Plastic Overshoot Day.

A visualisation showing the different, country-specific Plastic Overshoot Days for 2023. Image: Earth Action/Plastic Overshoot Day.

This is a particular problem for those living in poverty who are far more likely to live in countries without good waste management. This means many communities have little choice but to dump or burn their plastic waste, which threatens their health, lives and livelihoods. Dumped plastic can help spread infectious diseases and burning it produces toxic fumes. Tearfund analysis last year showed that 218 million people globally were at risk of flooding made worse by plastic pollution.

That’s why Tearfund is responding to the crisis, through our Rubbish Campaign. Right now we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to urge global leaders to take action on plastic pollution and tackle its impacts on those living in poverty. Over the next year, representatives from more than 150 countries will continue to meet to negotiate a global plastics treaty. Tearfund is working, alongside organisations such as the International Association of Waste Pickers, for a strong, legally binding treaty that protects those living in poverty as well as ensuring a just transition for waste pickers.

How can I respond?

Issues such as the plastic pollution crisis, with its enormous size and devastating effects, can make us feel powerless. Our relative distance from the people worst impacted by it – those living in poverty – doesn’t help either. But Jesus tells his followers that even the smallest amount of faith can move mountains. And when Jesus called us to love our neighbours he wasn’t talking only about people who live in our street, local community or country. Instead we are called to love our neighbours globally. Here are a few ways you can take action:

If you haven’t already, you can sign our petition calling on world leaders to ensure the global plastics treaty includes these four key elements:

  • Reduction: legally binding targets to reduce plastic production and scale up refill solutions
  • Recycling: funding for the collection and recycling of everyone’s rubbish
  • Respect: support for waste pickers, including a just transition
  • Response: mechanisms to ensure businesses and governments take action

As we look ahead through 2024, there’ll be plenty more ways to get involved with the Rubbish Campaign. If you haven’t already, check out our campaign resources, including a children’s resource and a small group course. To get updated directly on the latest campaign developments, you can sign up to our Tearfund Action emails.

Lastly, you can respond through prayer. See the prayer points below and sign up to our regular prayer texts to get up-to-date prayer requests on the treaty and Rubbish Campaign progress.

[1] The 'four in ten' statistic was calculated with data from Earth Action’s Plastic Overshoot Day Report, 2023 and the UN’s World Population Prospects, 2022.

Pray for the Rubbish Campaign

    • Pray that world leaders listen to the voices of those living in poverty during the negotiations.
    • Pray that negotiators feel compelled to include a just transition for waste pickers in the treaty text.
    • Give thanks for the progress we’ve seen so far and the inclusion of our key asks in the first draft of the treaty. Pray that these will stay in the text so that the treaty ensures the best outcome for those experiencing the worst impacts of plastic pollution.

Written by

Written by  Adam Aucock

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