Now, following the landmark United Nations decision to adopt a global treaty to end plastic pollution earlier this year, government negotiations on the deal will begin on May 30. They will debate intensely what kind of measures will be needed to end the pollution of air, soil, rivers and oceans by plastic and microplastic waste.
In a letter sent to the journal Science, an international group of scientists and experts now advocates tackling the problem at its source, regulating, limiting and eventually phasing out the production of new plastics.
Recycling is not enough
“Even if we were to recycle better and try to manage waste as much as possible, we would still throw more than 17 million tonnes of plastic into nature each year“, says Mélanie Bergmann, of the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Germany, initiator of the letter. “If production continues to grow and grow, we will face a real Sisyphean task.“, Add.
Research published in Science in 2020 shows that plastic emissions can only be reduced by 79% over the next 20 years if all currently available solutions are applied, such as replacing some plastics with other materials and improving recycling and waste management.
“The exponential growth in production is really the root of the problem, and the amounts of plastic we have produced so far have already exceeded planetary limits,” says Bethanie Carney Almroth of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. “If we don’t address this, all other measures will fall short of the goal of substantially reducing plastic emissions into the environment,” he said.
Phasing out new plastics is important
Phasing out the production of new plastics from new feedstocks must be part of a systemic solution to end plastic pollution, say experts from Canada, Germany, India, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States. This approach is backed by the best science available today and is consistent with what policy and legal experts proposed in Science last year.
Sedat Gündoğdu, from Cukurova University (Turkey), states that “mass production also feeds the transfer of plastic waste from the North to the South. A production cap will facilitate the phasing out of non-essential applications and reduce the export of plastic waste.
Alongside measures to address the problem of consumption and demand – such as taxes – a comprehensive approach must also cover supply, i.e. the actual amount of plastics produced and placed on the market.
According to scientists, phasing out the production of new plastics will have many social, environmental and economic benefits.
“We derive many benefits from plastics, but reducing production will increase the value of plastics, spur other actions to tackle plastic pollution, help fight climate change, and support our transition to a sustainable circular economy.adds Martin Wagner, ecotoxicologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.