The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has issued a passionate call to action, urging immediate and coordinated efforts to combat the mounting global crisis of plastic pollution.
In a groundbreaking report titled “Towards a New Plastics Economy,” the UNEP unveils an ambitious framework that expands upon the traditional three R’s approach (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle) while emphasizing the critical need for integrated actions throughout the entire life cycle of plastics.
The report underlines the severity of the plastic pollution crisis and highlights the pressing need for comprehensive measures to create a sustainable future. It introduces three main categories for action, aiming to tackle the issue from multiple angles.
The first category focuses on reducing the size of the problem. The UNEP calls for the elimination of unnecessary or problematic plastics and hazardous chemicals. This entails prioritizing durable and reusable products over single-use alternatives, as well as removing plastic packaging that serves no essential purpose. The report also emphasizes the importance of substituting unsafe or non-recyclable plastics with sustainable materials.
The second category outlines a transformative shift from a linear to a circular market, while the third category addresses the crucial task of managing the plastic pollution legacy.
Although the proposed systems change scenario outlined in the report is expected to reduce the outflows of mismanaged plastic waste by 80%, it estimates that around 100 million metric tons of plastics from short-lived products will still require proper management by 2040.
By accelerating the adoption of reusable products, reducing reliance on single-use items, and expanding recycling efforts, the UNEP believes that demand for new plastics in 2040 can be reduced by approximately 30%.
Moreover, increasing the availability and use of sustainable alternatives to short-lived plastics could prevent approximately 17% of plastics from becoming environmental pollution.
The UNEP underscores the interdependence of these system-level actions, emphasizing the need for their successful implementation on a global scale.
Furthermore, the report highlights the need for financial realignment to facilitate the desired market transformation by 2040. The UNEP presents several financial goals, including reducing financial flows towards virgin plastic production, mobilizing funds to support reuse and new delivery models, and increasing investments in collection, sorting, recycling technologies, and sustainable substitute materials.
The UNEP’s report stresses that immediate action within the next three to five years is crucial to achieve these transformative solutions effectively as failure to act promptly would result in an additional 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution entering the environment, exacerbating the already dire situation.