Plastic planet

Alejandra Warren
Sunday, Jun 04, 2023

UNEP is an organization entrusted to seek real solutions to one of humanity’s greatest environmental challenges, yet it is now advocating for industry profits over people and the environment.

Their recent report “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy” attempts to provide a blueprint for a future free of plastic pollution. However, the title couldn’t be more misleading and the report falls short on many fronts. Most concerning is the alarmingly low ambition to reduce plastic pollution by 2040: according to our calculations, only a 3.6 percent reduction per year from 2023 to 2040, while production is expected to double over the same period.

The strategy relies on the expanded use of chemical recycling technologies, along with other forms of incineration and waste disposal to achieve 43 percent of the reduction. These industry “solutions” generate large amounts of toxic pollution and hazardous waste and rely on a steady feedstock of plastic waste, exacerbating environmental injustices, waste colonialism and climate change. Maintaining high levels of annual plastic production and pollution will have catastrophic and irreversible effects on human health and the environment.

This latest UNEP analysis largely ignores the single most effective solution to ending the plastic crisis: investing in systems designed to eliminate the demand for non-essential plastics. This solution threatens the petrochemical industries that produce plastics, and large multinational consumer goods industries that rely on plastic packaging. These industries profit most from the plastic crisis while externalizing all social and environmental costs, estimated to reach $300-$600 billion per year, with some estimates exceeding $1.5 trillion according to the report. Considering the $600-700 billion in annual revenue from plastic production, it is clear almost all industry profits come at the expense of human health and the environment.

Moreover, these social costs are likely to be highly underestimated as the health consequences of plastics proven to be in our blood, digestive systems, lungs, breast milk, male and female reproductive systems and potentially brains, are not yet clear. Increasing ambition to cap plastic production, and creating a strict time-bound strategy to eliminate single-use plastics are the solutions that environmental justice leaders, fenceline and frontline community leaders, Indigenous leaders, scientists, environmental and public health professionals, non-profits and other community-based organizations are demanding. Yet, all their voices are being drowned out by the plastic industry’s overwhelming influence and power.

As UNEP claims to advocate for a “just and inclusive transition,” I hope the participation of these groups in the INC process doesn’t become tokenism under the guise of “inclusivity.”

Excerpted: ‘We Must Not Allow Industry Lobbyists to Destroy Global Plastics Treaty’.