Data about plastic pollution is daunting: more than 430 million tons of plastic are produced every year worldwide, half of which is designed to be used only once. Of that, less than 10% is recycled, according to UN figures, and an estimated 19-23 million tons end up in lakes, rivers, and seas annually – approximately the weight of 2,200 Eiffel Towers.
But plastic pollution can be reduced by a staggering 80% by 2040 if we act now to reuse, recycle, and pivot away from plastics, says a new report from the UN Environment Programme. And that’s why the World Environment Day chose #BeatPlasticPollution as the motto of its 2023 edition.
“We must work as one – governments, companies, and consumers alike – to break our addiction to plastics, champion zero waste, and build a truly circular economy,” stated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Together, let us shape a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for all.”
The problem of plastic pollution is particularly acute in urban areas: 75% of the total plastic waste generation comes from municipal solid waste streams, as high population densities and concentrated economic activity generate relevant amounts of consumption and waste.
In Europe, the EU Commission is reviewing the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation to set more ambitions targets for reducing and recycling packaging, and requiring certain levels of recyclability and recycled materials in new packaging. Cities applaud these revised rules, and are working to locally promote compostable and biodegradable items whenever possible, implement deposit and return schemes, teach people how to correctly separate household waste and increase reuse and recycling.
City-led programs are being launched in many countries around the world. In Kenya, the city of Mombasa joined WWF’s Plastic Smart Cities Initiative and committed to solve the plastic pollution problem with practical actions and educational activities. The town of Kamikatsu, set on the island of Shikoku, was the first municipality in Japan to make a “Zero Waste” declaration and is successfully managing to reuse or recycle everything it produces, with a specific focus on plastic objects and packaging. Last week, the city of York, Pennsylvania, announced its goal of becoming America’s first plastic waste-free city: sites will be available for anyone to dispose plastic waste in an environmentally safe way and all plastic trash will be diverted into a global reuse program.