Data, Interactive-Tools, and AI for Actionable Change in Ending Plastic Pollution

By Author November 9, 2023

The research is clear, plastic pollution has become a global crisis, with 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste produced by 2015 (Geyer et al. 2017).  Often research alone is hard to put into a usable form for action, but we identified a clear path to make a difference. The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center for Data Science & Environment at Berkeley (Schmidt DSE) teamed up with University of Santa Barbara researchers to build a bridge from a research model to an interactive data visualization tool that can be used by policymakers to form laws on global plastic. Today we are excited to release our Interactive Global Plastic Treaty Tool developed for UN negotiators and public facing storyboard which helps make our major takeaways more accessible. 

Plastic simulation


The time to make an impact is now

In March 2022, a significant resolution was passed by 175 countries at the United Nations, leading to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee. The committee's ambitious mission is to craft the pioneering Global Plastics Treaty, the world's inaugural legally binding international treaty, specifically designed to tackle the urgent challenge of plastic pollution on a global level. The UN will hold its third meeting in Nairobi starting Nov. 13 aimed at writing an international, legally-binding treaty by the end of 2024 that would end plastic pollution.  The Schmidt DSE tool will be presented at a side event in Nairobi and our team will be available during the entire meeting to help walk through how our tool can be used in the negotiation process. 



Screenshot of the interactive Global Plastic Policy Tool. Top have four squares with four options of numbers 1. Mismanaged Wast 2. Incinerated Waste 3. Landfill Waste and 4 Recycling. On the left have side are a series of clickable policy interventions that can be applied that change the large right central line graph with the x-axis being years and Y axis representing Miion Metric Tons of Mismanaged Plastic waste.
Screenshot from the Interactive Global Plastic Policy Tool built, which can be found at


Designing and Building the Global Plastic Policy Tool

The tool was built to quantify the current state of plastics in various regions across the world, using a dataset created by Professor Roland Geyer at UC Santa Barbara, which aggregates data from industry, governments, and other sources. It also predicts the impact of potential interventions, such as capping plastic production levels, to reduce pollution. Users can explore the combined effects of multiple policies, making informed decisions and advocating for change. We designed the tool with UN delegates in mind and throughout our building process we have shared our tool prototypes with a wide range of stakeholders who can use the tool to support the ambitious UN goal of eliminating plastic pollution by 2040. 


Open and Accessible Environmental Data

This project exemplifies our commitment to open science, as the Global Plastic Policy Tool focus is on providing accessible, open and usable environmental data.  This initiative aims to ensure that groundbreaking science does not stay confined within the walls of a laboratory but actively contributes to solving environmental challenges.


The Global Plastic Policy Tool represents a significant step in the fight against plastic pollution. It provides accessible data, supports informed decision-making, and empowers policymakers and advocates to take meaningful action. With the right timing, leverage of outstanding research, and data-driven design, tools such as the Global Plastics Policy tool can have a profound impact on decision-making and environmental protection. Here at Schmidt DSE underlying all the work we do is getting research, data and tools into the hands of people who can make a difference. 


 This tool is a prime example of our approach, and a timely example of how AI and data science can be used to tackle the world's most pressing environmental challenges. With ambitious goals and the power of data, we can hope to see a future where plastic pollution is eliminated, creating a cleaner and healthier planet for all.


Global Plastic Policy Tool Team

Sam Pottinger, Schmidt DSE

Dr. Ciera Martinez, Schmidt DSE

Dr. Doug McCauley, Schmidt DSE, BOSL, UC Santa Barbara

Dr. Roland Geyer, UC Santa Barbara

Dr. Nivedita Biyani, BOSL, UC Santa Barbara


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