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The UN releases new roadmap to halting plastic pollution

The United Nations has published a new report which states that ending plastic production could save the planet £3.6 trillion in under two decades. Its four-point approach aims to reduce the health and environmental problems stemming from plastic use.

Though plastic is a cheap and versatile material, its widespread use over the last 70 years has come at the high cost of degrading our natural environment – and our own health.

It’s a problem we cannot allow to worsen, given that the Pacific Ocean has now become a big plastic soup, humans have microplastics in their blood, and babies do too – before they’re even born.

In a new report that compiles data from global governments, institutions, and specialised researchers, the United Nations has put forward a fresh strategy for combatting the use of plastic globally.

Titled ‘Turning Off The Tap,’ it outlines predictions for the situation we could find ourselves in if our reliance on plastic continues, highlighting the importance of ending pollution to develop a healthier society and circular plastic economy.

Let’s look at some of the report’s findings and outline its four-point approach to reuse, recycle, reorient, and diversify the plastic sector.


It’s no secret that finding reusable alternatives to single-use plastic items can make a huge difference in how much waste we’re producing on a daily basis.

Annually, we produce 430 million metric tons of plastic – two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste. The vast majority of items are used only once.

With the world waking up to our plastic problem, thousands of brands now sell long-lasting reusable coffee cups, stainless steel water bottles, and other everyday items to help us cut back on waste.

The UN emphasises this has been a positive thing. However, it says that governments must accelerate the market for ‘reuse culture’ to branch out further if we are to move away from the ‘throwaway mindset’ we currently live with.

The report labels reuse systems as the best opportunity to reduce plastic pollution, with studies showing that replacing the most problematic and unnecessary single-use products would minimise our plastic waste by 30 percent before 2040.

A few unnecessary products come to mind – especially single-use bottles.

When we’re already accustomed to using aluminium cans for soft drinks and sparkling beverages – why not eliminate or completely ban the sale of drinks in plastic packaging altogether? We’re looking at you Coca Cola!



This chapter on plastic’s lifespan has gotten a lot of bad PR in recent years.

A little over a year ago, the UK was exposed for exporting all of its ‘recycling’ to poorer countries to either be burned or pile up in a landfill for the next 500 years.

Though we’re now informed about what actually happens when we take out the bins, it hasn’t stopped citizens from continuing the habit of separating our recyclables and hoping for the best.

The UN suggests the only way to improve current recycling systems is to ensure the sector becomes a more profitable industry. Doing so will provide an incentive for governments and entrepreneurs to enter the market and boost the business of plastic recycling.

The ultimate goal here would be to ensure stocks of recycled plastic are as readily available and cost-friendly as stocks of virgin plastic. If we fail to implement stronger markets for recycled materials, plastic production will triple by 2060.

And by 2040, plastic will be responsible for producing 19 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions – making the goal of keeping average global heating below 1.5C impossible.

Artist Ben Von Wong Urges World Leaders To “Turn Off The Plastic Tap" | Plastic Pollution Coalition

Reorient & diversify

This part of the UN’s plan is aimed at helping to shift the market to more sustainable alternatives. Rather than just avoiding plastic products, we should identify eco-materials that make the use of plastic obsolete.

In other words, displace the attractiveness of cheap and polluting plastic from the market entirely.

Investment into the improvement of bioplastics (made from seaweed and other plant life, for example) and other eco-materials has a huge role to play here.

Trials and tests on bio-alternatives to plastic films and wrappings are seeing more success every day, yet they have rarely become part of our mainstream shopping experience. This is because it currently cannot compete in a market where virgin plastic is widely accessible and cheaply available.

The UN says that proper investment into biomaterials and the like would allow the cost of production could go down while the durability of these materials is improved.

It also notes that globally, nine million people are currently employed in plastic production and processing industries. Successfully boosting the biomaterial and plastic-alternative industry would enable the transfer of these workers while creating at least 700,000 additional jobs.

The report reminds us that regulatory frameworks will need to be swiftly put in place in order for the biomaterials to be used by food providers on a wider scale.

Seeing these frameworks come to fruition would reduce the need for crisis management in public health and environmental protection. In total, the report suggests a strong move from plastic could save close to $1.3 trillion in public and private costs before 2040.

Let’s hope that the strong vision of the UN’s plan can be put into action.