The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) annual global event, World Environment Day, focuses this year on a single goal: #BeatPlasticPollution.
Like all other World Environment Day celebrations before, stakeholders from across the globe, from major corporations to governments to private citizens, have come together to implement steps to contribute to environmental protection.
Coinciding with this year’s theme, the UNEP also released a report titled “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy” to guide stakeholders on embracing a plastic-free, sustainable lifestyle.
Global plastic production and use have grown exponentially since the 1950s, with around nine million workers in polymer production and plastic processing industries. The world currently produces 430 million metric tons of plastic annually, with two-thirds being short-lived products that eventually become waste, specifically single-use plastics.
Plastic production will triple by 2060 if the global market maintains a business-as-usual approach.
UNEP’s report examines the issues of plastic pollution and proposes a systems change scenario that addresses the causes of plastic pollution instead of its symptoms alone. The systems change encourages countries to turn off the tap in plastic production and end the underlying environmental problem. Its results could bring about lesser numbers of plastic in the environment while helping societies transition toward safer and more stable jobs for workers in the informal sectors and creating business and job opportunities.
Over the years, the three R’s, reduce, reuse and recycle, are frequent practices in waste management. The UNEP report offers a modernized approach to the model.
For instance, the first shift is to reuse. It encourages the market to accelerate reusable products to transform the throwaway economy into a reuse society by creating an enabling environment to ensure a more relevant business case for the reuse market than single-use plastics.
Next is to recycle. It ensures a more stable and profitable venture by accelerating plastics recycling while reducing the amount of plastic pollution by an additional 20 percent by 2040. The shift requires adequate feedstock availability for recycling and means recycled materials can compete with virgin resources in the market.
Lastly, instead of merely jumping to recycle plastic materials like the traditional model, the UNEP report suggests the third shift in managing plastic waste among industries is to reorient and diversify. This shapes the market to embrace sustainable alternatives and avoid plastic products that could displace impacts instead of reducing them. These sustainable options can reduce pollution by 17 percent by 2040. However, it is not without challenges, as these products may struggle to compete in markets with products made of virgin fossil fuel-based polymers owing to some challenges like product cost, consumer demand and lack of appropriate regulations.
Fortifying the reusable market is taking a step ahead of plastic pollution by providing society with more access to sustainable materials instead of single-use products. Although the three R model is not uncommon because of its prominence in environmental bids, UNEP’s updated version allows for a change in the system to address the problem from its roots, thus creating a more long-term solution to #BeatPlasticPollution.
Read the full report at https://www.unep.org/resources/turning-off-tap-end-plastic-pollution-create-circular-economy.