Plastic Pollution

Ending Plastic Pollution Forever.

Providing UN negotiators and the general public with an AI-powered tool that accurately depicts what our future could look like given a range of different plastic interventions

The Problem

The global plastics problem is of urgent and growing concern that is exacerbating the climate crisis, creating threats to endangered species and at-risk ecosystems, putting human health at risk, and amplifying core environmental justice challenges.

The Opportunity

The United Nations recently convened a global treaty negotiation that has the potential — if thoughtfully implemented — to bring an end to plastic pollution forever. With this unique and timely moment, there is an opportunity for Schmidt DSE to fill a critical role in helping to provide reliable data-driven insights into what specific policies can be combined by   negotiators in the Treaty to solve the global plastic waste problem. 

Our Vision

Schmidt DSE aims to provide UN negotiators and the general public with an AI-powered tool that accurately depicts what our future could look like given a range of different plastic interventions.

Where we are now

In collaboration with other domain area experts in the global plastics system, Schmidt DSE created a model and built an interactive data tool that allows UN negotiators to visualize the impact that candidate Treaty policies would have on ending plastic waste.


This unique decision support tool helps inform policy makers and enables them to explore the impacts of different policy interventions in the upcoming international negotiations. One of the primary discoveries of this research project has been that it is possible to zero out mismanaged plastic waste by 2040 (see Figure Plastics_tool_1).


This interactive policy simulation environment which projects plastic under different scenarios using machine learning is available in pre-release at and open source at


Animated gif showing an earlier version of the tool.


Impact on Global Stage: Researchers from our team shared our tools at the United Nations third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) in Nairobi in November 2023. We held an in-person side event at INC-3 entitled “Modeling the Path to Zero Plastic Waste: Tools in Support of the UN Global Plastics Treaty”, which brought together researchers and INC-3 delegates  to discuss how scientific data and tooling can be used in negotiations. While at INC-3, we talked in person with over 40 people from over 16 countries and gained an extensive amount of feedback regarding our path forward.


Broader Engagement: We made a scrollable storyboard making the results of our work more digestible to the general public ( Our work gathered international and media attention, including being a focus in many news outlets including ABC7, Time, Nature, Berkeley CDSS, and The Washington Post

Where we are going

Getting the tool in the right hands: We are currently preparing for attendance at INC-4 in April 2024, where we will be there again in service of  decision-makers seeking to strategically understand how specific policies can help eliminate plastic waste decisions. This includes sustaining our work putting science into the hands of the national delegations with which we are already engaged and expanding our outreach to new countries. We are especially excited for the release of the new tool features described below in these next UNEP convenings.


Refining Tool Features: From the extensive feedback we received on tool improvement, we identified key improvements to implement in time for INC-4. In addition to minor improvements on usability and accessibility, we are driving forward on implementing two new major features: the incorporation of greenhouse gasses as a metric to and further articulation of the regionalization and country specificity of the data. We are especially excited about these new measures for quantifying the climate footprint of the plastics system to better connect the dots between plastics and climate change in these negotiations. Both new features require the addition of new data sources and methodology in our modeling efforts.


Communicating Results: Our team is co-authoring two papers, one focused on the design of the tool and the other on the methodology and results of our research which we are submitting to peer reviewed journals. All of this work will be accompanied by open data, code, and software for full reproducibility so other researchers can truly scale and extend our work. 


Plastics pollution

New global plastic policy tool illustrates data science center’s approach

Sam Pottinger spent years turning the latest advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning into models and dashboards that supported decision-making at Silicon Valley technology companies. At UC Berkeley, he's building those kinds of tools to turn quality environmental science into accessible, actionable information.

November 13, 2023
Plastics teaser

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

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.

November 9, 2023
Plastics tool

Webinar: Policy Simulation Tool in Support of the UN Global Plastics Treaty

Inviting those engaging in any capacity with the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution to join a webinar sharing first key insights from a research program evaluating the impact that specific policies contained in the INC zero draft could have on curbing plastic pollution.

October 9, 2023

DSE Contributors

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    Ciera Martinez

    Ciera Martinez

    Senior Program Manager
    Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center for Data Science & Environment at Berkeley
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    Sam Pottinger

    Sam Pottinger

    Senior Research Data Scientist / Software Engineer
    Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center for Data Science & Environment at Berkeley
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    Doug McCauley

    Douglas McCauley

    Faculty Director & Associate Professor
    Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley
    Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UC Santa Barbara