Article image

The world may put an end to plastic pollution by 2040

Plastic production and subsequent pollution are key drivers of climate change, the focus of discussion at COP27 in Egypt this week. At the upcoming Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution, the United Nations must set a new target for plastic pollution. Researchers from the Global Plastics Policy Centre at the University of Portsmouth are urging for an aggressive target of zero for new plastic waste.  

Professor Steve Fletcher advised the United Nations Environment Programme, G20, and World Bank on plastic policy, including the possible global agreement to tackle plastic pollution.

“The treaty’s target must be ambitious and meaningful, we are calling for the UN to aim for a minimum goal of 0% new plastic pollution by 2040,” said Professor Fletcher. “To achieve this, policymakers, businesses, researchers and wider society must go beyond the existing best available technology and practice and be radical in their thinking to develop a coordinated global strategy to tackle plastic pollution.”

The aim of the global treaty is to end plastic pollution, but a target is still needed and should be clearly defined with an agreed upon strategy. 

There are nearly 200 nations committed to the development of the treaty. With each country working with different financial, social and political obstacles, the target must be clear, measurable, and based on a relevant timeframe. 

The authors feel it is not realistic for countries to clear existing plastic waste. Instead, efforts should be focused on stopping new plastic pollution entering the environment. 

Current policies only address a fraction of plastic pollution. These commitments are estimated to decrease plastic entering the environment by only seven percent between now and 2040. 

“At best, country-specific policies, such as bans on specific plastic products, do not have the reach to meaningfully affect global drivers of plastic pollution. At worst, they create international legal and policy inconsistencies that push plastic waste to places with the least capacity to deal with it safely,” said study lead author Antaya March.

Policies often fail to tackle the root cause of pollution. This is why the team is calling for a globally coordinated approach regulating the entire plastics value chain and confronting the environmental, economic and social impacts of misaligned plastic policies.

“Plastic is extremely useful, but mismanagement has led to a global pollution crisis that is exacerbating climate change. A complete transformation to a circular plastics economy is needed to radically reduce or eliminate plastic pollution while supporting necessary use,” said March.

“It is a huge achievement that the development of a global legally binding treaty by the UN to end plastic pollution is underway. But to be effective, the global treaty requires new levels of transparency, disclosure and cooperation to support evidence-based policymaking that avoids the fragmented and reactionary policies of the past. A system change needs to arise that fundamentally alters the way we behave and interact with plastic,” said Professor Fletcher.

The study is published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day