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Here's how we can end plastic pollution by 2040: UNDP

Updated: Jan 20

end plastic pollution

The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) has adopted a resolution to end plastic pollution by 2040.

The UNDP is committed to accelerating society-wide actions to fight against plastic pollution. This includes working with governments, businesses and civil society.

There are a number of solutions that can help to end plastic pollution, including design for circularity, reduction, reuse, repair, and the use of safe and sustainable alternatives.

Paris, just the mention of it, melts people’s hearts. Renowned for its art, culture, food and fashion, Paris is above all known as the capital city of romance, associated with love and dreams.

It is with a spirit of high hope that 169 UN member states and hundreds of observers recently gathered in Paris to participate in the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

Despite the obstacles of disagreeing on the rules of procedures in the first two days, member states moved forward the negotiation on substantive matters, and considered extensively the 12 potential core obligations consolidated by the INC secretariat based on the written submissions from member states. These potential core obligations are consistent with a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastics.

The twelve core obligations can be grouped into three categories along the entire life cycle of plastics:

Upstream solutions that focus on phasing out or reducing the supply of, demand for or use of primary plastic polymers, problematic and avoidable plastic products, and chemicals and polymers of concerns, as well as microplastics.

Midstream solutions that foster design for circularity; encourage the reduction, reuse and repair of plastic products and packaging, and promote the use of safe and sustainable alternatives and substitutes.

Downstream solutions that strengthen waste management, elimination of release and emissions of plastics to water, soil and air, address existing plastic pollution already in the environment, facilitate a just transition and protect human health.

No one denies the importance of strengthening waste management (downstream solutions) and even there was not much contention on midstream solutions (design for circularity). The key question is how to stop plastic pollution at its sources, including production reduction and control measures.

The single one most critical issue in dispute is whether to put a target to phase out or reduce plastic production and consumption in the form of primary plastics, problematic and avoidable plastics, and harmful chemicals and polymers. According to the OECD, 460 million metric tons of plastics were used in 2019, equivalent to 45,500 Eiffel Towers. If business continues as usual, this will triple by 2060. Less than nine percent of plastics are recycled, and even when they are, evidence is emerging that they downgrade and can carry toxins and harmful substances. As Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, put it in her opening remarks at the meeting: “We cannot recycle out of this problem.” While environmental groups and a large number of countries consider reducing production is the most effective measure to address plastic pollution at the source, other countries including some major countries of plastics production and consumption are not yet ready to take the position to reduce production.

After long hours of negotiations over the week, member states converged on the urgency to deal with plastic pollution happening right in front of our eyes with significant perverse impact on health and environment. According to UNEP, more than 13,000 chemicals are used in plastic production of which 3,200 of them are of concern.

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