UN report: "Here are the things to do to rid the oceans of plastic"

Gianluca Riccio


UN g20 ocean pollution report

A UN report commissioned to the G20 Thrace gives the tragic picture of the “plastic in the oceans” situation, but also has a recipe for solving it.

Even as awareness of plastic pollution grows, solutions to the problem are lacking. 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.

UN ocean pollution report
The big island of garbage, not the only one, that floats in the Pacific Ocean

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 far from the objectives of another report, the G20's Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. According to this prospectus, the earth should prevent any new plastic pollution from entering the oceans by 2050.

To get there, UN researchers say in the report that the world needs a "total shift in the plastic economy." The plastics industry needs to move from a "linear and wasteful 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 achieve the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. If the G20 is truly serious about its commitments, leading nations must act now.

The team behind the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision report

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 going to our oceans by 82% by 2040 using known technologies and approaches.

This, of course, requires simultaneous intervention from nations around the world. A road map that everyone can follow. “It's time to stop isolated changes where country after country does random things that look good on the surface but actually make no difference,” he says Steve Fletcher from 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 policymakers. Waste management systems cannot scale quickly. The use of plastic must be reduced, minimized or avoided completely, 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 per 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, ocean cleanup should only be considered a “useful transition effort” on the road to a circular plastic 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 the opportunity to address the plastic economy like never before. If this impulse also goes in the direction of reducing marine plastic, the report concludes, perhaps we will succeed.

The report of the UN International Resource Panel is available here.

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