A new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights how existing technologies and significant policy and market changes can help reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040. The report emphasises the importance of a circular economy and outlines specific strategies for governments and businesses to tackle the plastic pollution crisis.
The report comes ahead of global negotiations in Paris on a comprehensive agreement to combat plastic pollution and emphasises the urgency of addressing this issue and transitioning to a circular economy. Titled ‘Turning off the Tap: How the World Can End Plastic Pollution and Create a Circular Economy,’ the report offers a solutions-focused analysis that outlines concrete practices, market changes, and policies to guide governmental and business actions.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP highlighted the detrimental impact of plastic production, usage, and disposal on ecosystems, human health, and climate stability. The report’s roadmap promotes adopting a circular approach to keep plastics out of ecosystems, prevent their entry into our bodies, and foster economic benefits. By following this roadmap and integrating its principles into plastic pollution negotiations, significant economic, social, and environmental progress can be achieved.
To achieve an 80% reduction in global plastic pollution by 2040, the report recommends three key market shifts: reuse, recycle, and reorient/diversify products.
Despite these measures, an estimated 100 million metric tons of plastics from single-use and short-lived products will still require proper disposal annually by 2040. To address this, the report suggests implementing design and safety standards for non-recyclable plastic waste, holding manufacturers accountable for products shedding microplastics, and other responsible measures.
The transition to a circular economy is projected to yield substantial savings of USD 1.27 trillion, considering costs and recycling revenues. Additionally, approximately USD 3.25 trillion can be saved by avoiding externalities such as health impacts, climate change, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation-related costs. Moreover, this shift could create a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040, predominantly benefiting low-income countries and improving the livelihoods of millions in informal sectors.
According to a UN report, the establishment of a global fiscal framework and the adoption of integrated policies are crucial in advancing plastic recycling and transitioning to a circular economy. The report emphasises the need to level the playing field between recycled materials and virgin materials, promote scalability of solutions, and implement effective monitoring and financing mechanisms.
The report also addresses specific policy measures, including the establishment of standards for the design, safety, and use of compostable and biodegradable plastics. It recommends setting targets for minimum levels of recycling, implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, introducing taxes and bans on certain plastic products, adopting effective communication strategies, promoting sustainable public procurement practices, and implementing clear labeling systems.