Our Burning Planet

UNEP REPORT

Here’s how to dramatically decrease plastic pollution in three practical steps

Here’s how to dramatically decrease plastic pollution in three practical steps
Waste pickers sorting out recyclable material in Allen's Nek on 13 December 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sydney Seshibedi)

As countries seek to secure a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, a report outlining the path to do so has been released by the United Nations Environment Programme, detailing how plastic pollution can be addressed head-on to create a circular plastic economy.

Reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify are the three market shifts the latest United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has proposed to dramatically decrease plastic pollution.  

Its report Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy was published on Tuesday, and comes ahead of a second round of negotiations on a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: First UN draft plastic pollution treaty set to help carve a more sustainable future 

“Our analysis shows that you need to, on the one hand, reduce the scale of the problem, reduce the amount of plastic that is unnecessary or can be avoided completely, creating three market shifts that allow reuse through refilling. 

“The second market shift is looking at the recycling market. It’s not only about good recycling management but about having more feedstock, more plastic that can be recycled. 

“The third … is creating alternatives that don’t create a greater carbon footprint,” Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Unep’s director of industry and economy, told Daily Maverick

South Africa 

South Africa produces about 2.4 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, with an average of 41kg of plastic waste per citizen, WWF South Africa has found. Of this waste, almost 60% is collected for recycling by the country’s 90,000 waste pickers, a report found. However, with global rates putting recycled material at about 10%, the country needs a robust policy to ensure that plastic pollution is tackled. 

The job market under a circular economy

Aggarwal-Khan said it would be up to member states to decide on a financial aid instrument that would aid developing countries to support a just transition towards a plastic circular economy. She added that countries could also extract funds from their Extended Producer Responsibility scheme, where plastic producers are charged a fee that goes towards combating plastic pollution. 

Collected vs recycled plastic waste

Developing countries, such as South Africa, are placed to benefit more from a circular economy through job creation, among other factors. But more importantly, not transitioning leaves the country and the world with more polluted waters and land, further threatens marine life, and increases carbon emissions at a time when the environment demands a reduction. DM/OBP

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