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    UN calls on governments and industry to ‘turn off the tap’



    To deal with the threat posed to ecosystems, human health and the climate, the United Nations is calling on governments and industry to “turn off the tap” of plastic pollution. In a report published on Tuesday, May 16, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) sets out a roadmap to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040.

    It comes ahead of an important meeting to be held in Paris from May 29 to June 2 to negotiate the forthcoming international treaty on plastic pollution, which should lead to a legally binding text in 2024.

    According to estimates by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, approximately 460 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year, 353 million tonnes of which end up as waste. This amount could triple by 2030 if nothing is done. This is why UNEP is proposing a “systems change.” For the United Nations, this means promoting the circular economy, a path contested by environmental organizations and scientists, who advocate a drastic reduction in the use of plastics.

    Besides reducing problematic (by banning the most dangerous chemical additives to health and the environment) and unnecessary (single-use objects) plastic use, the report recommends three key shifts: reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify. The first shift is from throwaway to reusable through the introduction of deposit-return or packaging take-back systems or the use of bulk dispensers in-store. UNEP estimates that a large-scale rollout would reduce plastic pollution by about 30%. It also encourages governments to promote reusable products in order to consolidate the sector economies.

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    What’s happening in France

    UNEP looks to the example set by France with its anti-waste law, recently banning disposable tableware in fast food restaurants. However, it makes no mention of the issues faced by the French government with its proposal to introduce a deposit on plastic bottles in response to the European target of collecting 90% of bottles by 2029. The government has been met with a revolt from local elected officials, who are afraid of losing out on tax revenue (from household waste management) and are calling it a “scam.” (Bottles will not be reused, but destroyed to be recycled as they are in the current collection system.)

    UNEP estimates that by ensuring that recycling becomes a more stable and profitable venture, plastic pollution can be reduced by a further 20% by 2040, Redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to the design of recyclable plastics while eliminating the additives added to them would increase the production of recyclable plastics from 21% to 50%. As things currently stand, less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled worldwide. Yet UNEP insists that “the technology is there.” Some countries have led the way and the report points to Mexico where the recycling rate has jumped from 9% in 2002 to 56% in 2018.

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