Existing Technologies and Policy Shifts Key to Achieving Significant Reductions in Plastic Pollution.
In a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Tuesday, a new roadmap has been unveiled to dramatically slash plastic pollution by 80% globally by 2040. The report, titled "Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy," emphasizes the urgent need for countries and companies to adopt existing technologies and make significant policy shifts and market adjustments.
The UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen, highlighted the detrimental impact of plastic pollution on ecosystems, human health, and climate stability. She stressed the importance of adopting a circular approach that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, prevents their ingestion by humans, and promotes their integration into the economy.
The roadmap outlined in the report proposes three key shifts: reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify. By promoting reuse options such as refillable bottles, bulk dispensers, deposit-return schemes, and packaging take-back schemes, governments can reduce 30% of plastic pollution by 2040. Additionally, enhancing recycling as a stable and profitable venture, including the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and enforcing design guidelines for recyclability, can further reduce plastic pollution by 20%.
The report also highlights the importance of replacing products like plastic wrappers, sachets, and takeaway items with alternatives made from materials such as paper or compostable materials. This careful reorientation and diversification of products could lead to an additional 17% decrease in plastic pollution.
While these measures would significantly reduce plastic pollution, the report acknowledges that even by 2040, approximately 100 million metric tons of plastics from single-use and short-lived products will still need to be safely managed each year. The report suggests implementing design and safety standards for disposing of non-recyclable plastic waste and holding manufacturers responsible for products shedding microplastics.
Importantly, the shift to a circular economy, as proposed in the report, could result in substantial savings. An estimated $1.27 trillion would be saved from costs and recycling revenues, while an additional $3.25 trillion could be saved from avoided externalities such as health issues, climate change impacts, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation-related costs.
The transition to a circular economy also presents a significant opportunity for job creation, particularly in low-income countries. The report projects a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040, benefiting workers in informal settings and improving livelihoods.
However, the report emphasizes the need for urgent action, warning that a five-year delay could result in an increase of 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040. The report calls for international policies and a global fiscal framework to enable recycled materials to compete with virgin materials on a level playing field, encourage the scaling up of solutions, and establish monitoring systems and financing mechanisms.
By embracing this roadmap and integrating regulatory instruments and policies across the lifecycle of plastic products, governments can achieve significant economic, social, and environmental victories in the fight against plastic pollution, according to UNEP. The report's findings serve as a valuable resource for governments and businesses seeking to take concrete actions to address the plastic pollution crisis and create a sustainable future.