Despite the enormous amount of plastic pollution in the world, the United Nations Environment Programme has discovered that by 2040, it is still possible to cut it by up to 80%. Major adjustments would be necessary, yet undertaking these efforts would still be practical and even economical.
In a recent report titled Turning off the Tap: How the world can eliminate plastic pollution and Build a circular economy, the UNEP discussed the potential for significant reductions in plastic pollution. The research highlights other measures to limit pollution through reuse, recycling, reorientation, and diversity strategies in addition to lowering plastic manufacture.
Reuse and recycling are concepts that are widely known. The paper underlines the need for better systems and policies to support both. Additionally, the reorienting and diversification strategies aim to substitute compostable or paper-based goods for single-use plastics.
Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said in a statement that the production, use, and disposal of plastics are degrading ecosystems, posing threats to human health, and disrupting the climate. By using a circular strategy that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, our bodies, and the economy, this UNEP research lays out a roadmap to drastically minimize these hazards. We may achieve significant economic, social, and environmental gains if we adhere to this road map, including during talks on the plastic pollution deal.
The authors estimate that these initiatives might reduce the amount of improperly managed plastic pollution to roughly 41 million metric tons. There would be 227 million metric tons of improperly managed plastic pollution under the status quo. Other forms of plastic pollution would also be reduced further, including:
- 149 million metric tons of fossil fuel-based plastics compared to 380 million metric tons in the business-as-usual scenario;
- 95 million metric tons of landfilled plastics compared to 129 million metric tons in the business-as-usual scenario; and
- 216 million metric tons of total plastic waste was generated compared to 408 million metric tons in the business-as-usual scenario.
The UNEP reported that even with an 80% decrease in plastic pollution, 100 million metric tons of plastics would still need to be managed annually by 2040. Ghost gear and microplastics will need to be addressed, and waste management and disposal methods will need to be improved.
The paper claims that these changes might result in an additional 700,000 jobs, especially for low-income countries. Changes could cost more initially, but they would be less expensive than carrying on as usual, saving $1.27 trillion in direct costs and $3.25 trillion in avoided externalities.
After 193 nations agreed to take part in a legally binding agreement to reduce plastic pollution worldwide, the study acts as a road map for future plastic treaty negotiations. Without the accord, Back to Blue found that plastic usage may double by 2050.