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Ana María Pujante Mora

The World Environment Day 2023 #BeatPlasticPollution campaign calls for global collective action to implement solutions to end plastic pollution.

More than 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide each year, half of which is single-use plastic, with less than 10% being recycled. It is estimated that between 19 and 23 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in lakes, rivers and seas every year. Our planet is drowning in a sea of plastic. Plastic pollution is a threat to all ecosystems.

Report image Turning off the Tap (2023 United Nations Environment Programme)

Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5 mm in diameter) also invade food, water and even the air. Single-use plastic products that are discarded or burned not only harm human health and biodiversity, but also pollute all ecosystems. A human being can ingest 94,383 to 113,743 microplastic particles per year. These particles cause metabolic and neurotoxic disorders and increase the risk of cancer.

Plastics size classification and origin of microplastics (Germanov et al., 2018)

The problem with microplastics has led to the development of new types of plastics that are biodegradable, known as bioplastics. However, these are not a real solution to the problem as they include plastic additives that are similar or the same as those in normal plastics. Examples of these are bisphenol A, alkylphenols or phthalates. Their “bio” alternatives generate in many cases the same problems as regular plastics.

Global harmonisation is needed to achieve a drastic reduction of plastics and microplastics on the planet. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) calls for a drastic reduction of unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic.

  • Reduce the size of the problem:
    • Identification of problematic or unnecessary chemicals (polymers, additives and dyes) and products that should be prohibited.
    • Common approach to the application of a tax on virgin plastics, including the rate of taxation and the conditions triggering increases in the rate of the tax.
  • Accelerate reuse:
    • Rules that define the desirable necessary minimum operating standards of EPR schemes.
    • Standards and safety considerations for reusable design, including packaging, modular refill systems and materials.
  • Accelerate recycling:
    • Design and safety standards requiring all plastic products to be reusable and recyclable.
    • Common plastics labelling scheme.
    • International standards and controls for chemicals of concern.
  • Reorient and diversify:
    • Common assessment method to identify which plastics can be substituted and acceptable alternatives.
    • A global standard for compostable and biodegradable plastics.
  • Deal with the legacy:
    • Common definition and standards governing the safe disposal of end-of-life plastic waste.
    • Design and safety standards and EPR for products shedding microplastics.

Policy makers and governments, industry and private leaders and stakeholders at all levels, and all citizens, have the opportunity to solve plastic pollution.