MOSCOW (MRC) -- Ahead of the second round of global plastics treaty talks in Paris later this month, the United Nations Environment Programme on May 16 released a road map that said a well-crafted agreement could reduce plastics pollution by 80 percent by 2040, said Sustainableplastics.
UNEP, which is coordinating the treaty negotiations, called for first eliminating "problematic and unnecessary" plastics and then adopting policies like container deposits, producer responsibility and more reusable packaging, along with better recycling systems and "careful" replacement of items like plastic wrappers, sachets and takeaway items.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told an online news conference that the report finds that plastic pollution costs the world several hundred billion dollars a year, including from climate impacts of plastics manufacturing, air and water pollution and exposure to hazardous chemicals.
She said the report, "Turning Off the Tap," also suggests steps to help make recycled materials more cost competitive compared with virgin plastics. "As long as virgin plastic is cheaper than recycled, then that becomes an economic dimension that will make us, as a global society, lean back on virgin," she said.
The report looks at levies on virgin materials, which Andersen admits might be a non-starter in some counties, as well as extended producer responsibility programs and container deposits. The U.N. report found that the largest gains could be made toward the 80 percent reduction from policy options like reusables, EPR and bottle deposits. It estimated they could account for a 30 percent drop.
As well, it said building more profitable recycling systems, including removing subsidies for fossil fuels and enforcing design guidelines for recyclability, could account for another 20 percent drop. It estimated those steps could boost the share of economically recyclable plastics from 21 percent to 50 percent.
As well, UNEP estimated that replacing products like plastic wrappers, sachets and takeaway items with alternatives, including paper and compostable packaging, could deliver an additional 17 percent reduction.
Andersen said countries will set their own policies but she hoped the UNEP report can help steer the treaty talks. The second of five negotiating rounds begins May 29 in Paris, with 2,500 diplomats and observers from 170 countries gathering for five days.
"Governments can deliver a strong deal to end plastic pollution," she said. "Businesses [can] ensure innovation and commitment to move away from virgin plastics, starting immediately.
"International financial institutions and other large investors need to move significant investments towards solid waste management and collection systems," Andersen said. "Creative chemical engineers must take a hard look at product design and weed out harmful chemicals and plastics."
The report builds on earlier work by the Pew Charitable Trusts and others. Some environmental groups criticized the U.N. report.
The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives said the report appears to support burning plastics in cement kilns, which it said was dangerous because cement production accounts for 8 percent of the world's carbon dioxide. That would also incentivize what it said is continued overproduction of virgin plastics, as fuel for the cement industry.
"Not only does this pose a grave climate and public health threat, it also undermines the primary goal of the global plastic treaty — putting a cap on plastic production," said Neil Tangri, GAIA's science and policy director.
Other environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Oceana, in statements called on UNEP to put more focus on reducing plastic production in the treaty, a position that some consumer product brands and countries are also pushing.
"UNEP's focus on reduction and reuse is the right approach. Recycling and waste management, on the other hand, will continue to be ineffective until producers cut the sheer amount of plastic they are forcing on consumers," said Jackie Savitz, chief policy officer for Oceana.
We remind, around 3.33 million tonnes of plastic waste were recycled or reused as raw materials in Germany in 2019. More than 38 per cent of this was polypropylene (PP). Yet recycling this PP comes with its own set of problems, caused by the fact that due to the sometimes very long polymer chains, the melt flow index of PP derived from the mechanical pre-sorting of various material streams is often too low to allow for further processing via either injection moulding or extrusion.