Ahead of the second round of global plastics treaty talks in Paris later this month, the United Nations Environment Programme on May 16 released a road map that said a well-crafted agreement could reduce plastics pollution by 80 percent by 2040.
UNEP, which is coordinating the treaty negotiations, called for first eliminating "problematic and unnecessary" plastics and then adopting policies like container deposits, producer responsibility and more reusable packaging, along with better recycling systems and "careful" replacement of items like plastic wrappers, sachets and takeaway items.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told an online news conference that the report finds that plastic pollution costs the world several hundred billion dollars a year, including from climate impacts of plastics manufacturing, air and water pollution and exposure to hazardous chemicals.
She said the report, "Turning Off the Tap," also suggests steps to help make recycled materials more cost competitive compared with virgin plastics.
"As long as virgin plastic is cheaper than recycled, then that becomes an economic dimension that will make us, as a global society, lean back on virgin," she said.
The report looks at levies on virgin materials, which Andersen admits might be a non-starter in some counties, as well as extended producer responsibility programs and container deposits.
The U.N. report found that the largest gains could be made toward the 80 percent reduction from policy options like reusables, EPR and bottle deposits. It estimated they could account for a 30 percent drop.
As well, it said building more profitable recycling systems, including removing subsidies for fossil fuels and enforcing design guidelines for recyclability, could account for another 20 percent drop.
It estimated those steps could boost the share of economically recyclable plastics from 21 percent to 50 percent.
As well, UNEP estimated that replacing products like plastic wrappers, sachets and takeaway items with alternatives, including paper and compostable packaging, could deliver an additional 17 percent reduction.