How multiple countries are working together to end plastic pollution by 2040

This image shows a pile of plastic rubbish illustrating the need to end plastic pollution.

The pressure to end plastic pollution is growing. Image: Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Espen Barth Eide
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Norway
Dr. Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya
Minister of Environment, Government of Rwanda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Plastic pollution has reached unprecedented levels and is infecting our land, oceans, animals and even our bodies.
  • Norway and Rwanda have formed the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution by creating an international legally binding instrument.
  • This calls on international organizations, civil society, academia, business, industry and finance to help develop a realistic roadmap to end plastic pollution by 2040.

Plastic pollution has reached unprecedented levels and it is projected to triple in the coming decades. This is an unacceptable burden to place on the planet and on future generations. Business as usual is not an option. We must build a different future.

Plastic consumption is projected to skyrocket in the coming decades, from 460 million tonnes in 2019 to 1,231 million tonnes in 2060. The volume of plastics in rivers and lakes is forecast to increase from 109 million tonnes in 2019 to 348 million tonnes in 2060, while plastics leaking into the ocean are expected to rise from 30 million tonnes in 2019 to 145 million tonnes in 2060.

This is why Norway and Rwanda formed the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution. This Coalition was initiated following the historic UN Environment Assembly resolution 5/14, passed in March 2022, to start negotiations on an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. The Coalition is a group of ambitious countries working for a truly effective global treaty. This will establish common global rules, turn off the plastic tap and end plastic pollution by 2040.

A global roadmap to end plastic pollution

To inform our deliberations and actions, we need a global roadmap based on the best science and the most effective policies for circular economy and waste management.

Our knowledge about plastic pollution is increasing rapidly. It is now estimated that 22 million tonnes of plastic pollute the natural world every year. We know that plastic pollution is found on the highest mountains and in the deepest trenches in the ocean. Scientists have found microplastic in our blood and within our lungs. Plastic particles are in our air, soil, food and water.

We know plastic pollution has adverse effects on the environment and human health. But we do not yet know the full extent of this harm. We need more information on the content and composition of chemicals in plastics to usher in a circular economy. We need more reliable statistics on the value chain of plastics – including production, consumption and waste management – as well as the trade in materials, products and waste. We need to better understand the environmental, economic and social costs, as well as the benefits of ending plastic pollution and achieving a circular plastics economy.

Reigning in plastic consumption to sustainable levels

Our first goal as the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution is to restrain plastic consumption and production to sustainable levels. More research and analysis is needed on the control measures that will minimise the demand for plastics and increase the supply of recycled plastics. We must discover the most effective policies, economic mechanisms and financial incentives to reduce demand, improve product design to enable recycling and shift towards new products made from recycled materials.

Delaying the implementation of the System Change Scenario by 5 years may increase plastic pollution in the ocean by over 80 million metric tons
Why we can't delay cutting right back on plastic consumption Image: Systemiq

Enabling a circular economy

The Coalition’s second goal is to enable a vibrant circular economy for plastics that protects the environment and human health. The last thing we want in a circular economy is hazardous and harmful chemicals in an endless loop. The plastics treaty must ensure global criteria and standards for the design of plastic products, so these can be recycled without risks to the environment and human health.

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Optimising plastic waste management

Our third goal is to achieve environmentally sound management of plastic waste so that no waste is wasted. Around 75% of all plastic produced since 1950 has ended up in landfills or in nature. Three billion people currently do not have access to adequate waste management services. The growth in plastic waste generation is far outpacing investments in waste management. That is why we must develop and share state-of-the-art technology that allows for best practice plastic waste recycling worldwide.

Keeping plastic in the economy and out of the environment allows for a multitude of approaches, in line with different national circumstances. Waste management is a basic social service, as well as a profitable business model. The treaty must establish provisions to incentivise innovation, investment, scaling-up and a just transition in the waste sector to end plastic pollution.

As co-chairs of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, we want an international plastics treaty fit for purpose, based on the best science and most effective policies. We invite the UN system, international organizations, civil society, academia, business, industry and finance to contribute to our common cause towards developing an ambitious and realistic roadmap to end plastic pollution by 2040.

Find out more about the Global Plastic Action Partnership here

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