AFRICA: UNEP plan to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040

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AFRICA: UNEP plan to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040 ©UNEP

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), reducing plastic pollution will require significant policy changes and market adjustments at six levels, including structural. The UN body has set out these in a new document entitled "Turning off the tap: how the world can stop plastic pollution and create a circular economy", which projects a reduction in plastic pollution of 80% by 2040.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), approximately 353 million tonnes of plastic waste were produced worldwide in 2019. Only 9% of this waste was recycled that year, while 22% was mismanaged or released into the environment. By 2023, the situation has rather deteriorated, impacting especially on the biodiversity of the oceans. Africa is particularly concerned by this phenomenon.

Faced with a range of initiatives that have so far failed to eradicate plastic pollution, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is suggesting a completely different approach in a document entitled “Turning off the tap: how the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy”. According to UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderse, if governments and businesses follow this roadmap, plastic pollution could be reduced by 80% by 2040.

Reuse, recycle, repurpose and diversify

The UNEP’s approach is sixfold. First, the UN agency proposes to change the system by accelerating reuse, recycling, reorientation and diversification (RRR+D), and by taking action to address the legacy of plastic pollution. For example, “100 million tonnes of plastic from single-use and short-lived products will still need to be safely processed each year by 2040,” says UNEP.

A circular market: RRR + D will also need to be created. For example, promoting reuse options, including reusable bottles, bulk dispensers, deposit and return systems for packaging could reduce plastic pollution by 30% by 2040. To realise this potential, governments will need to help strengthen the business case for reusable products.

Read Also –  AFRICA: the circular economy, an ally for the ecological transition

It will also be possible to reduce plastic pollution by a further 20% by 2040 if recycling becomes a more stable and profitable business. Removing fossil fuel subsidies, implementing design guidelines to improve recyclability and other measures would increase the share of economically recyclable plastics from 21% to 50%. On another level, the judicious replacement of products such as plastic packaging, bags and takeaways with products made from alternative materials (such as paper or compostable materials) could lead to a further 17% reduction in plastic pollution.

A driver of economic growth

In the third axis of its new strategy, UNEP suggests defining and implementing design and safety standards for the disposal of non-recyclable plastic waste and making manufacturers responsible for products containing microplastics. The shift to a circular economy would result in $1.27 trillion in savings from the costs and revenues of recycling. In addition, avoided externalities (health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation and litigation costs) would save $3.25 trillion.

The change in plastic waste management policy will automatically create 700,000 new jobs in low-income countries by 2040. “The investment costs for the recommended systemic change are significant, but lower than the costs of not undertaking the systematic change: $65 billion per year versus $113 billion per year,” the UNEP roadmap says. But these adjustments will need to be made quickly to avoid a delay that could do more harm. UNEP points out that a five-year delay could lead to an increase of 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040.

To reduce plastic pollution, the UN body also recommends that a global fiscal framework be part of a policy pact to allow recycled materials to compete on a level playing field with virgin materials, create an economy of scale for solutions, and establish monitoring systems and financing mechanisms. “If we follow this roadmap, including in the negotiations on the plastic pollution agreement, we can achieve major economic, social and environmental results,” says UNEP.

Inès Magoum


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