A new report claims globally coordinated policies could cut annual mismanaged plastics by 90% and virgin plastic production by 30% by 2040.
According to the report, global policy inaction could increase virgin plastic production by 66% from 430 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019 to 712 Mt in 2040, nearly double annual mismanaged plastics to 250Mt, and increase greenhouse gas emissions by 63% by 2040 relative to 2019 levels.
It also claims “further and stronger” measures are needed to fully end all aspects of plastic pollution and align the plastic system with the Paris Climate Agreement.
The report ‘Towards Ending Plastic Pollution by 2040: 15 Global Policy Interventions for Systems Change’ was commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers for the Environment and Climate and developed by Systemiq.
President of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Climate and the Environment, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Icelandic Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate, commented: “An ambitious plastic treaty is a unique opportunity to end plastic pollution by 2040.
An ambitious plastic treaty is a unique opportunity to end plastic pollution by 2040.
“This report shows how current global policies, even if upgraded, do not solve plastic pollution entirely. Therefore, we will have to face tough negotiations, spur on more innovation, gather new knowledge and mobilise more ambitious policies to get there. Our future demands a truly circular plastic economy and clean oceans.”
The report proposes 15 global policy interventions across the plastic lifecycle and says they can only be effective through common global rules implemented as part of an international, legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.
However, the report also states that even after implementing the proposed interventions, 13 Mt of plastics would remain mismanaged, including 5 Mt of microplastics.
The policy interventions it proposes are:
- Targets to reduce virgin plastic volumes.
- Virgin plastic fees to fund solutions across the plastic lifecycle.
- Application-specific levers to reduce plastic consumption.
- Bans on avoidable single-use plastics.
- Reuse targets for avoidable single-use plastics.
- Phaseout criteria for problematic plastics, polymer applications and chemicals of concern.
- Design rules for safe reuse, repair, durability and cost-effective recycling.
- Targets for collection and recycling rates.
- Modulated EPR schemes applied across sectors.
- Controls for a just transition for the informal sector.
- Restrictions on plastic waste trade.
- Standards on the controlled disposal of waste that cannot be prevented or safely recycled.
- Mitigation and removal programmes for legacy plastics in the environment.
- Upstream policies to reduce microplastic use and emissions.
- Downstream policies to capture microplastics, followed by controlled disposal.
However, Christina Dixon, Ocean Campaign Leader at the Environmental Investigation Agency, said the report fails to “adequately model the potential of plastic production reduction and explore the true extent of plastics’ impact on our health”.
She said: “It’s time for a radical rethink of the global plastics economy, and this report shows that business as usual cannot continue.
“The upcoming Global Plastic Treaty negotiations must take lessons from this report, but also seize the opportunity to ensure that all elements are considered for a truly ambitious treaty.”
The report estimates these interventions could achieve a 90% reduction in annual mismanaged plastics volumes by 2040 relative to 2019, driven by reduction, elimination and expansion of circularity.
It also estimates the impact could mean a “sevenfold” increase in global recycling output by 2040, from 29 Mt in 2019 to 201 Mt by 2040 through recycling targets, product design rules, extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and fees on virgin plastics.
GHG emissions in 2040 would remain the same as 2019 levels but represent a mitigation of GHG emissions from the global plastic system of 40% relative to the 2040 levels in the Business-as-Usual Scenario, according to the report.
The report also says applying the proposed policies could provide important savings in cumulative public expenditure over 2025-2040; however, these savings would apply predominantly to regions with existing infrastructure.
Further and stronger measures are required to eliminate mismanaged plastics fully.
Yoni Shiran, Partner and Plastics Lead at Systemiq, commented: “This report sets a new benchmark and shows that implementing 15 far-reaching policy interventions globally could take us a long way in the journey towards ending plastic pollution by 2040.
“The suggested policy package presents a starting point. However, further and stronger measures are required to eliminate mismanaged plastics fully, address risks to health and biodiversity, ensure a just transition and tackle the climate crisis.”
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