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Rethink plastic use, recycling not enough: UN official

Updated: Jan 11

Rethink plastic use, recycling not enough: UN official

NEW YORK: With the production of plastic on the rise worldwide and creating ever more pollution, the UN environment chief warned that humanity cannot just recycle its way out of the mess and called for a total rethink about the way we use plastics.

“There are different sorts of onramps to the highway to solutions. But I think everybody recognises that the status quo is just not an option,” said Inger Andersen, the director of the UN Environment Program, in an interview on Thursday with AFP on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York.

Andersen was talking two weeks after the publication of the first draft of a future international treaty on plastic pollution, which is expected to be finalised by the end of 2024.

It reflects the wide range of ambitions of the 175 countries involved, notably the gap between those who argue for a reduction in the production of raw polymers and those who insist on reuse and recycling.

First, Andersen said the aim was to get rid of as many single-use plastics as possible, “eliminating what’s frankly not necessary: that thing that is wrapped in plastic that’s completely mindless, that is maybe even wrapped by nature itself,” like an orange or a banana.

Then, “there is thinking about the product itself. Does the product need to be liquid? Can we rethink the product… can it be powder, can it be compressed, can it be concentrated?” she said. “We also have to reduce the overall supply of new raw polymer.”

For sure, “we have to recycle as much as we can. But as we look at it now, plastic use is increasing,” Andersen told AFP.

“So what is clear is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess.” Annual production of plastics has more than doubled in the past 20 years, to reach 460 million tons. It could triple by 2060 if nothing changes.

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