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Comprehensive assessment on marine litter and plastic pollution confirms need for urgent global action - UN Environment Programme

Nairobi, 21 October 2021 – A drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic is crucial to addressing the global pollution crisis, according to a comprehensive assessment released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). An accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, the removal of subsidies and a shift towards circular approaches will help reduce plastic waste at the needed scale.

From Pollution to Solution: a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution shows that there is a growing threat in all ecosystems from source to sea. It also shows that while we have the know-how, we need the political will and urgent action by government to tackle the mounting crisis. The report will inform discussions at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in 2022, where countries will come together to decide a way forward for global cooperation.

Plastic pollution leakage into aquatic ecosystems has grown sharply in recent years and is projected to more than double by 2030, with dire consequences for human health, the global economy, biodiversity and the climate.

The assessment, released 10 days ahead of the COP26, emphasizes that plastics are a climate problem as well: Using a life cycle analysis, 2015 greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), and are projected to increase to approximately 6.5 GtCO2e by 2050, or 15 per cent of the global carbon budget.​​

The authors pour cold water on the chances of recycling our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. They warn against damaging alternatives to single-use and other plastic products, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which currently pose a chemical threat similar to conventional plastics.

The report looks at critical market failures, such as the low price of virgin fossil fuel feedstocks compared to recycled materials, disjointed efforts in informal and formal plastic waste management, and the lack of consensus on global solutions.

Posted on: 21 October 2021

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