Wil Sillen's post

80 percent less plastic waste? According to the UN, this must change in our plastic consumption
By: Kaz Schonebeek
The mountain of plastic waste is growing – with major consequences for people and nature. A new report from the United Nations Environment Program shows what we need to do to reduce our plastic use and prevent plastic waste.

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1. Stop unnecessary use
We currently produce 430 million tons of plastic per year worldwide. Two-thirds of that plastic is intended for short-term use, and half of that is for single use only. The UN has calculated that if we do not change our plastic use, this amount will have doubled in 2040. The good news? Even with the current state of technology, we can drastically reduce the amount of plastic we need – and reduce the plastic waste mountain by 80 percent.

The first step is to take a critical look at which plastic we really need. Plastic disposable bags, disposable cups and hotel shampoo in mini bottles are in many cases completely unnecessary. More efficient packaging of products can also be considered. By saying goodbye to plastic products in this way, 9 percent plastic can be saved annually in 2040, according to the study.

2. From disposable to reuse
Many plastics are now only used once for a very short time, such as in food packaging. Taking back packaging and letting it do extra rounds in the economy can yield significant savings. This can be done by offering products packaging-free in shops and allowing customers to bring their own jars, by taking back plastic bottles and containers and by using deposit systems. Changing from a throwaway society to a reuse society could mean about 21 percent less plastic use, the UN estimates.

Reusing products is more labour-intensive than simply throwing them away. New logistics systems need to be set up to collect, clean and reuse plastic. That is why the UN proposes to tax labor less and raw materials more. This can boost the transition to a reuse-based economy. A special tax on newly produced plastic is also one of the recommendations.

3. Recycle
Only 6 percent of newly produced plastic comes from recycled material. That has a lot to do with how plastic products are designed. With 80 percent of the plastic intended for short-term use, it is not economically feasible to recycle it because of poorly chosen material combinations, dyes that are difficult to process or awkward formats. This can be overcome by agreeing design standards aimed at recycling.

Of course, to recycle plastic, it must first be collected. High-income countries score fairly well on this – but waste collection is far from perfect everywhere in the world. On average, only about 30 percent of plastic waste is collected in rural areas of low-income countries. Plastic that is not collected is often burned in the open air, resulting in enormous greenhouse gas emissions.
Setting up a recycling infrastructure is therefore of great importance. In particular, setting up recycling facilities in low-income countries should be a priority, says the UN. In this way, it should be feasible to avoid 20 percent of plastic waste by 2040.

4. Replace plastic with more sustainable materials
Why do we actually use so much plastic? An important answer to that question is: plastic is dirt cheap. And that causes problems when replacing it. Alternatives to plastic are often more expensive – think of all kinds of biodegradable plastic, wooden spoons or bamboo straws. Many alternatives do contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing soft plastic with sustainably produced paper, for example, can reduce emissions by 25 percent. Therefore, governments should stimulate the use of alternatives through taxes. This could mean 17 percent less plastic waste.

But simply replacing plastic with other materials is not a good idea. Alternatives must be assessed against the cost, the land use required to extract the raw materials, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with production and the impact on public health. In addition, it must be clear what should be done with the waste after use – for example, some biodegradable plastics are only degradable at temperatures above 50 degrees. This requires a clear policy regarding the labeling of materials, so that it is clear to the user and waste processor how the materials should be processed.

  • Harrison wambui

    59 w

    Recycling improves the economy and also preserving environment

  • bonke reinhard

    59 w

    Recycling is very important

    • Tabitha Kimani

      59 w

      Plastic is the greatest menace of all time.

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