The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
urged countries to impose taxes to deter the production or use of single-use plastic products, while tax breaks, subsidies and other fiscal incentives need to be introduced to encourage alternatives, such as reusable products. Waste management infrastructure must also be improved.
Countries need to encourage innovation and provide incentives to businesses that do away with unnecessary plastics. Governments can also engage in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee process to forge a legally binding instrument that tackles plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, the UNEP added.
In 2022, UN Member States agreed on a resolution
to end plastic pollution. An Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee
is developing a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, with the aim of having it finalized by the end of 2024. Critically, the talks have focused on measures considering the entire life cycle of plastics, from extraction and product design to production to waste management, enabling opportunities to design out waste before it is created as part of a thriving circular economy.
While this progress is good news, current commitments by governments and industry are not enough. To effectively tackle the plastic pollution crisis, systemic change is needed. This means, moving away from the current linear plastic economy, which centres on producing, using and discarding the material, to a circular plastic economy
, where the plastic that is produced is kept in the economy at its highest value for as long as possible.
Humanity produces more than 430 million tonnes
of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste, filling the ocean and, often, working their way into the human food chain.
is another area where plastic is ubiquitous: it is used in everything from seed coatings to mulch film. The fishing industry is another significant source. Recent research
suggests more than 100 million pounds of plastic enters the oceans from industrial fishing gear alone. The fashion industry is another major plastic user. About 60 percent of material made into clothing is plastic
, including polyester, acrylic and nylon.
Overall, 46 percent of plastic waste is landfilled,
while 22 percent is mismanaged and becomes litter. Unlike other materials, plastic does not biodegrade. It can take up to 1,000 years
to break down, so when it is discarded, it builds up in the environment until it reaches a crisis point. This pollution chokes marine wildlife, damages soil and poisons groundwater, and can cause serious health impacts
Moreover, the production of plastic is one of the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes in the world. The material is made from fossil fuels such as crude oil, which are transformed via heat and other additives into a polymer. In 2019, plastics generated 1.8 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions
– 3.4 percent of the global total.