Even as awareness of plastic pollution grows, solutions to the problem are hiding. At this rate, by 2050, some experts predict that the world's oceans will contain more plastic than fish.
A UN report, commissioned by the G20, has now detailed everything the world should do to prevent disaster from becoming a reality due to our indolence.
The pre report scenario
Today, some 11 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and, according to a 2020 model from SYSTEMIQ and The Pew Trusts, by 2040 the amount of plastic waste that flows in our oceans it could almost triple.
In the face of this plastic tsunami, what are governments and companies doing? The promises and policies adopted
they will only reduce plastic waste by 7% in the marine environment. Results very far from the objectives of another report, the G20's Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. According to this prospectus, the earth is expected to prevent any new plastic pollution from entering the oceans by 2050.
To get there, UN researchers say the world needs a "total change in the plastics economy" in the report. The plastics industry needs to move from a “linear and expensive system” to a circular and renewable one in a few decades.
According to the report, this is an ambitious goal, but it is the only way to reach the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. If the G20 is truly serious about its commitments, the leading nations must act now.
The conclusions of the report
The report is largely based on a model released in 2020. It shows that if the world decides to take ambitious and urgent action on plastic pollution, we can reduce waste destined for our oceans by 82% by 2040 using known technologies and approaches.
This of course requires simultaneous intervention by nations around the world. A road map that everyone can follow. "It's time to stop isolated changes where one country after another does random things that are good at first glance but don't really make any difference," he says. Steve Fletcher of the University of Portsmouth.
The intentions are good, but changing one isolated part of the system doesn't magically change everything else.Steve Fletcher
Recycling: alone is not enough
Recycling alone will not be enough, the report says. The 2020 model found that at least half a million people will need to be connected to waste collection services every day for it to function as a strategy.
Reducing the amount of plastic in the system must be a top priority for policy makers. Waste management systems cannot scale quickly. The use of plastics must be reduced, minimized or avoided altogether, even with product design changes.Extract from the UN report
Global packaging, the authors point out, they have an inclusive value
between 80 and 120 billion dollars a year, but 95% of that money is lost in the form of plastic waste. Not only could changing the design save companies money, but companies capable of relying on more renewable materials could also benefit from economic benefits.
Also clean up the waters
Ocean cleanup efforts will also be needed to collect at least some of what we have already thrown away. There is a huge landfill island in the Pacific, and other similar accumulations of plastic.
As such, cleaning up the oceans should only be seen as a "useful transition effort" on the way to a circular plastics economy. The priority, the report reiterates, is to prevent further pollution.
At a time of global economic recovery, with governments committed to providing economic stimulus for the ecological transition, the world has an opportunity to address the plastics economy like never before. If this impulse also goes in the direction of reducing marine plastics, the report concludes, perhaps we will succeed.