Plastic pollution will reduce by 80 percent in 17 years

27 Jun 2023
3 min read
Piles of plastic waste

Hopeful headlines when it comes to the environment always merit a closer look and an 80 percent drop in plastic pollution in less than two decades is definitely one that requires support but also some scrutiny.

A recent report yielded headlines suggesting plastic pollution globally could be reduced by a massive 80 percent in just 17 years.

Plenty of online and print headlines suggested we could have just 20 percent of the plastic pollution we have now by 2040 but are the headlines right?

There’s no short and sweet yes or no to this question unfortunately as it’s slightly more complicated than the fab headline suggests.

Can we reduce plastic pollution?

Countries need to reuse, recycle and look to use alternative materials.

The United Nations Environment program released a report in May suggesting plastic pollution could be cut by 80 percent in just 17 years. But – and it’s a big ‘but,’ the caveat is that countries need to sign up to the roadmap, which essentially suggests countries reuse, recycle and look to use alternative materials. All of which we already know.

Aren’t those figures deluded?

It’s entirely possible to reach this incredible figure.

It’s easy to dismiss headlines like this as wishful thinking – we could pretty much end fossil fuel dependence if Governments decided to, but we know it’s not that simple.

What this headline does show though, is that it’s entirely possible to reach this incredible figure which is something to be delighted about.

The UNEP report suggests businesses, such as Coca-Cola, and countries use those three main strategies and if they do, brilliant things can happen.

Simple strategies could give huge gains

Woman using refill containers in a shop

Their research suggests that simply incentivising people to reuse refillable bottles could reduce plastic pollution by 30 percent of the total figure.

They state it’d be a “powerful market shift” and it would be. Imagine heading to your local supermarket and, where there are aisles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles, instead there are huge vats of the lotions you simply refill with the bottles you brought with you or soap bars removing plastic altogether. It’s not a huge change for the consumer but it’d make a massive difference.

The report also suggests if we scale up recycling plants – making them bigger or building more, we could reduce plastic pollution by a further 20 percent.

We know what we need to do

What I find both brilliant and a bit disheartening about the report is that none of it is rocket science. We know we should be doing more, we’ve known that for decades. We’ve seen the heart breaking images of wildlife trapped in plastic pollution.

The report recommends discontinuing fossil fuel subsidies – again a brilliant recommendation that can’t happen soon enough.

If we switch single use plastic wrapping for items like sachets and wrappers for a sustainable biodegradable alternative we could reduce plastic pollution by 17 percent.

We need governments to sit up and act

We need reports like this to highlight how easy it could be for us to reach these goals but there’s nothing brand new in them, so we and particularly Governments need to sit up, listen, take notice, and implement the recommendations.

This is a hopeful headline, but it depends entirely on the actions of each and every one of us whether it’s consigned to wishful thinking or whether it becomes fact by 2040.


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