With global plastic production predicted to triple by 2060 and countless reports warning about the lack of success of recycling industries worldwide, it’s critical to find sustainable ways to reduce plastic use.
1. Market shifts
The latest report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), launched ahead of the plastics treaty’s second phase of negotiations, taking place in Paris, puts the spotlight on companies’ efforts urging them to make deep policy and market shifts based on available technologies. In particular, the report calls for three market shifts – reuse, recycle and reorient, and to diversify products.
If these actions are properly taken, the report suggests, it will be possible to slash plastic pollution by 80% globally by 2040. UNEP’s report, entitled “Turning off the tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy”, emphasizes the importance of eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastics to reduce the size of the problem before focusing on the three market shifts.
“There is hope in the global deal to end plastic pollution under negotiation, which is due to land by 2024,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, in Kenya, one of more than 30 countries in Africa to have banned single-used plastic bags.
2. Roadmap to circularity
Going fully circular is a complicated and challenging process. UNEP’s report is yet another wake-up call for everyone to get involved, especially businesses and governments.
“The report lays out a roadmap to dramatically reduce these risks through adopting a circular approach that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, out of our bodies and in the economy. If we follow this roadmap, including in negotiations on the plastic pollution deal, we can deliver major economic, social and environmental wins,” Andersen added.
Piotr Barczak, Circular Economy Project Manager at African Circular Economy Network, welcomed the report saying it was “good overall” and that it “rightly discourages investing in waste incineration”. But he raised a red flag condemning the endorsement of “waste burning in cement kilns”.
“Not a very smart solution nor recommendation, not strategic either. And harmful. UNEP authors should listen to communities affected by pollution from those cement kilns,” Barczak commented.
It is estimated that at best 40% of Europe’s plastic waste is recycled, a recent investigation by Investigate Europe revealed. The cross-border investigation, titled “Wasteland”, exposes failings in EU efforts to achieve a circular economy and details how unchecked production and use is creating a plastic waste crisis across the continent.
For example, multiple NGOs and studies have shown that much of the plastic sent for recycling ends up in landfills or is burned as data only captures plastics “sent or prepared for recycling”.
“The problem,” said Flore Berlingen, a former director of Zero Waste France, “is that we privatised waste management policies by handing them over to these [private] organisations. What should be a matter of public policy choices and debates has been gradually delegated.”