contamination by plastics in the world could be reduced by 80% if governments develop a series of “profound changes” legislative and legal proposals in a new report released today by the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
“The way we produce, use and dispose of plastics is contaminating the ecosystemswhat creates risks for human health and destabilizes the climate,” the executive director of this UN agency, Inger Andersen, said in a statement on Tuesday.
However, Andersen stressed that the UNEP roadmap can “reduce dramatically reduce these risks through adopting a circular approach that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, out of our bodies, and into the economy.”
The document, titled “Turning off the tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy”, It is intended to be a “compass” for governments and “relies only on technologies and solutions that already exist, but requires a urgent action and simultaneously that it crosses borders”, according to the agency.
UNEP warned that “a delay five years (in the application of these measures) can lead to an increase of 80 million tons” of plastic pollution by 2040.
Besides the elimination of unnecessary plastics to “reduce waste at source”, the report proposes three “changes in the market” as a solution: reuse, recycle and, likewise, reorient and diversify the materials.
“Promote the market of reusable products (such as multi-use bottles and bags, bulk dispensers or repair, among others) instead of a disposable economy it means ensuring that the reuse market entails greater business opportunities than the market for single-use plastic products,” UNEP said.
In the same sense, different measures could increase the economic benefits of recycling, the report stresses: since the withdrawal of subsidies for fossil fuels from making new plastics cheaper to banning hard-to-recycle plastics or “dangerous” chemicals.
However, even if these measures are applied, in 2040 there will still be some 100 million tons of single-use plastics, equivalent to 30,000 kilometers of waste in a straight line or the round trip distance between New York and Sydneythe agency warned.
While UNEP acknowledges that “the costs investments for the recommended systemic change are significant”, are less than the expenses if those changes do not materialize.
The money for that investment, says the document, can be raised by diverting funds allocated to create new plastic production facilities, which will no longer be needed, or by regulations that force producers to take charge of the collection, recycling and disposal of plastic.
UNEP estimates that around 7,000 million of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic produced between 1950 and 2017 have become plastic waste that ended up in landfills or thrown into ecosystems.
Thus, this UN institution considers pollution by plastics “a global crisis” against which it is necessary to act quickly and in a coordinated manner.
This new report of UNEP takes on special importance as it is published shortly before the start in Paris on May 29 of the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on a binding treaty to deal with plastic pollution.
The committee arose last February from the V Assembly of the UN for the Environment (UNEA-5), held in the Kenyan capital.