circular economy waste

Steps towards the end of plastic pollution

Last year the UN Environment Assembly agreed on the need for a global plastics treaty, working towards the long term goal of eliminating plastic pollution. UNEP have now published a report called Turning Off the Tap that describes how this could be done – and it’s got the giant tap from the Nairobi conference on the cover.

The report outlines global approaches to reduce, reuse, recycle – three Rs that will be familiar to many – but also to ‘reorient and diversify’. That’s about shifting the market away from plastics and towards other materials.

The plan is summed up visually in two rather neat graphics. Here’s a summary of where we are now: vast quantities of fossil fuels going into mostly single-use plastics that are then thrown away. A small percentage is recycled. Most of it is mismanaged and ends up as plastic pollution.

Here’s the graph of the how the UNEP imagines it could be different by 2040. The first place to intervene is, as we all know, reduce – stop making so much plastic in the first place. Of the plastic that is manufactured, a significant portion needs to be reused. Only then do we talk about recycling.

Of course, there’s a huge amount of plastic waste already in the environment, and so the report has a chapter on dealing with legacy waste too. And the quicker we can stop piling more plastic into nature and communities, the better.

There will be a host of campaigns and advocacy steps to push through the many policies necessary to make all of this happen. It needs sustained engagement from businesses and governments, and from customers and citizens who will keep nagging them about it. But if you want to look at the big picture, take some time to browse the Turning Off the Tap report.

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