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Refill stores and bottle deposit schemes: Inside the UN goal to cut plastic pollution by 80% by 2040

Encouraging refill stores could help slash plastic waste.
Encouraging refill stores could help slash plastic waste. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons
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The UNEP has revealed a 17-year roadmap for cutting pollution.

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Plastic pollution could be slashed by 80 per cent by 2040, according to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

This ambitious target relies on major policy changes and the deployment of existing technologies in the way we produce, use and dispose of plastics.

Last week, representatives from around 170 countries gathered in Paris to negotiate the world's first global treaty to curb plastic pollution. They agreed to produce a draft of the legally binding pact before their next meeting in November.

This could see production reduced, plastic-making chemicals limited and recycling facilities improved.

So what would need to change in our daily lives to reach UNEP's goal?

More refill stores and deposit-return schemes

Under the current circumstances, plastic waste produced globally is set to almost triple by 2060. About half of this would end up in landfill and under a fifth would be recycled, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

To reduce the size of the problem, the UNEP report suggests ‘eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastics’.

Promoting refillable bottles, bulk dispensers, deposit-return-schemes and packaging take-back schemes could help to cut plastic pollution by 30 per cent, UNEP claims.

It encourages governments to make these approaches more attractive to businesses. This could result in the refill store approach becoming more mainstream.

Many European countries already run deposit-return schemes, which allow consumers to redeem money when they return items such as plastic bottles for recycling.

The UK recently announced it would introduce one in 2025.

Recycling could become easier and more effective

UNEP also says recycling needs to become more stable and profitable. It suggests removing fossil fuel subsidies and enforcing design guidelines to make products more recyclable.

This could make it easier to recycle everyday plastic packaging at home and result in a 20 to 50 per cent reduction in plastic pollution.

Better yet, plastic packaging should be replaced with alternative materials such as paper. This could deliver an additional 17 per cent drop in plastic pollution.

Could reducing plastic waste save money?

Shifting to a circular economy in plastic would result in almost €1.8 trillion in savings, considering costs and recycling revenues, UNEP says.

The knock-on benefits for health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystems and costs related to lawsuits would be even greater at more than €3 trillion, it claims.

The shift could also create 700,000 jobs by 2040, according to UNEP.

The costs of implementing circular schemes could be placed on producers through levies, redirecting investment earmarked for plastic production, and requiring them to finance collection, recycling and responsible disposal of plastics.

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UNEP's report warns that a five-year delay in concrete action may lead to an increase of 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040.

What will happen to the remaining plastic waste?

Even if these reductions are made, we’d still be left with 100 million tonnes of annual single-use plastic waste, according to UNEP.

It suggests setting and implementing design and safety standards for disposing of non-recyclable plastic waste. Manufacturers should also be made responsible for products shedding toxic microplastics, among other regulations.

However, some environmental campaigners have criticised UNEP for promoting the polluting practice of burning plastic waste, news agency Reuters reports.

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