Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy

On May 16, 2023, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a new report titled "Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy."

The release of the report coincides with the upcoming second round of negotiations on a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, known as Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee-2 (INC-2), which will be held in Paris.

The first round of negotiations, INC-1, took place in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and highlighted the growing concern regarding the interconnections between plastic, human health, and environmental health.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Global Plastic Pollution Reduction and Urgency for Action: According to the report, global plastic pollution can be reduced by 80 percent by 2040 if countries and companies implement deep policy and market shifts, utilizing existing technologies and transitioning to a circular economy.
  • Higher Costs and Increased Pollution with Delays: The report emphasizes that any delays in implementing these necessary shifts will result in higher costs and an additional 80 million tonnes of plastic pollution by 2040. This alarming projection highlights the urgency to take action promptly.
  • Economic Benefits and Job Creation: It estimates savings of $1.27 trillion from costs and recycling revenues, as well as an additional $3.25 trillion saved from avoided externalities such as health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation-related costs. Moreover, this shift could result in a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040.
  • Management of Plastic Waste: The report said that that even with the current plastic pollution mitigating measures, 100 million tonnes of plastics from single-use and short-lived products will still need to be safely managed annually by 2040, alongside the significant existing plastic pollution.
  • Design Standards and Responsibility: It suggests setting and implementing design and safety standards for the disposal of non-recyclable plastic waste. It also proposes holding manufacturers responsible for products that release microplastics.
  • Levy on Virgin Plastic Production: The report suggests that much of the required funding can be obtained by redirecting planned investments for new production facilities or by implementing a levy on virgin plastic production.
  • Adopting a Circular Economy Approach: To combat plastic pollution effectively, the report urges governments and businesses worldwide to adopt a circular economy approach. This approach entails eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastic uses and making three essential market shifts: reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify.
  • Establishing a Global Fiscal Framework: To facilitate the transition to a circular economy, the report recommends establishing a global fiscal framework that enables recycled materials to compete with virgin materials on a level playing field.
  • This framework would create economies of scale for sustainable solutions and establish monitoring systems and financing mechanisms.
  • Specific Policies for Plastic Pollution: It also addresses specific policies such as design and safety standards, minimum recycling targets, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, taxes, bans, communication strategies, public procurement, and labeling.
  • Urgency for Action and a Healthier Planet: The UNEP report provides valuable insights and recommendations to combat plastic pollution and promote a circular economy. The urgency to take action is paramount, and implementing the suggested measures can lead to a significant reduction in plastic pollution, economic savings and a healthier planet for future generations.