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Urgency of a circular economy

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A new United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report titled “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy” suggests that plastic pollution can be slashed by 80 percent by 2040 if countries and companies use existing technologies to make significant policy shifts and market adjustments.

Released ahead of the second round of negotiations in Paris on a global agreement to beat plastic pollution, the report also outlines the magnitude and nature of the changes required to end plastic pollution and create a sustainable circular economy that is friendly to humans and the environment. It provides a solutions-focused analysis of concrete practices, market shifts, and policies that can inform government thinking and business action.

To slash plastic pollution by 80 percent globally by 2040, the report suggested first eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastics to reduce the size of the problem. It proposes a system change achieved by accelerating three key shifts – reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify – and actions to deal with the legacy of plastic pollution.

Even with those measures, there are still 100 million metric tons of plastics from single-use and short-lived products that will still need to be safely dealt with annually by 2040 – together with the significant legacy of plastic pollution. This can be addressed by setting and implementing design and safety standards for disposing non-recyclable plastic waste, and making manufacturers responsible for products shedding microplastics, among others.

Overall, the report indicated that a shift to the circular economy would result in $1.27 trillion in savings, considering costs and recycling revenues. A further $3.25 trillion will be saved from avoided externalities such as health, climate, air pollution, marine system degradation, and litigation-related costs.

UNEP adds the shift could also result in a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040, mostly in low income countries, significantly improving livelihoods of millions of workers in informal settings.

As one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution in the planet, the Philippines has a greater responsibility than most when it comes to creating a circular economy, while at the same time trying to reduce the plastic pollution we continue to indiscriminately generate despite the warnings from scientists and international organizations. The sooner we begin, the bigger the impact of our contribution will be.*

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