UN calls for a radical rethink of the plastic industry

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On Tuesday, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report proposing radical alternatives in the plastics industry to tackle the problem of global plastic pollution. It focuses on reuse, recycling, and a reorientation of production to initiate a market transformation for plastics from a throwaway economy to a circular economy.
The report “Turning off the Tap,” stresses that everything possible must be done to make plastic recycling more profitable, promote sustainable plastic alternatives, and create consumer awareness. He said that regulatory tools are needed – which should lead to a range of economic benefits and reduce harm to human health, the environment, and the climate.

“Turning off the tap on plastic pollution is within reach,” the report says. With an “integrated package of policies, clear pathways and new business models,” countries could individually and collectively achieve this goal. Under a system change, new plastic production could be more than halved by 2040, and the share of reused or recycled materials could be increased to 27 percent. Under this scenario, plastic waste entering the environment could be reduced by more than 80 percent.

The investment cost of the system change is estimated to be about $65 billion per year, much less than the current annual investment. “But time is of the essence: a delay of five years could lead to an increase in plastic pollution of 80 million tons,” it says. At the same time, 700,000 new jobs could be created. About nine million people worldwide work in polymer production and the plastics processing industry, it is estimated.

For Greenpeace expert Lisa Panhuber, the report presented at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi “addresses the role of plastic production far too little. A plan that still accepts 100 million tons of plastic pollution per year 17 years from now is far too little. The report does point out the importance of reuse through reusable or filling systems, and the need for just transition for workers, especially waste pickers. But UNEP ignores the enormous pollution and emissions associated with the production, use, incineration, landfilling and recycling of plastics,” Panhuber told APA. “The global plastics agreement must limit and reduce plastic production.”

This UN global plastics agreement is entering its second round of negotiations in Paris from May 29 to June 2. The deliberations, which began last year, are intended to produce for the first time an international and legally binding agreement to combat global plastic pollution in five stages (the next round will take place in Nairobi in November).

The aim is not only to eliminate plastic waste but to prevent it. The objective is to introduce global bans on particularly harmful plastics, gradually reduce the production of new plastics and set binding targets, and develop recycling systems and environmentally friendly alternatives. The plastics agreement will be finalized at the fifth round of negotiations in South Korea in the fall of 2024 and will enter into force as early as 2025. For Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, the agreement is the most important international environmental agreement since the Paris Climate Agreement.

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