How can a life cycle approach stem the plastic pollution crisis?

How does this approach work with plastics?

A plastics life cycle approach considers the impacts of all activities and outcomes associated with the production and consumption of plastics, products and services.

This approach is essential to enable the global systemic change and collaboration that experts say necessary to fight against plastic pollution. By using a lifecycle approach, we can identify the changes needed at all stages of a product’s lifecycle to reduce the pervasiveness of plastic pollution.

What actions can we take?

Some products must be designed to be reused, recycled and made with recycled content to limit the presence of plastics in the environment as much as possible.

Companies can practice corporate responsibility by avoiding energy-intensive processes and switching to renewable energy. Plastics must also be free of hazardous chemicals.

Consumers can opt for reusable products to be used and reused as much as possible, ensuring that they are effectively washed and requiring that they are properly recycled. They can also play an important role in boycotting certain plastic products and advocating for companies and governments to take tougher action on plastic use.

Governments must be involved at all stages of the plastic product life cycle and take action to move to a new plastic economy, to eliminate, innovate and circulate. These include encouraging reuse, banning unnecessary plastic packaging and products, investing in recycling infrastructure, and engaging in partnerships that tackle existing plastic pollution. Raising awareness and promoting circularity can also have an impact.

What progress has been made towards adopting a circular economy for plastics?

In addition to the Global Commitment, world leaders agreed to a landmark resolution to forge a legally binding deal to end plastic pollution by 2024 during the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Assembly for the environment in March.

The resolution addressed the full plastic life cycle and established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC). The first meeting of the CNIto be held in Uruguay from November 28 to December 2, 2022, will see the countries begin the process of negotiating the agreement.

Alongside the meeting, UNEP will organize a multi-stakeholder forum on 26 November to provide a platform for all stakeholders to contribute to the negotiations.

“The linear economy of plastic is at the root of the plastic pollution crisis,” says Aggarwal-Khan. “While the best solution differs by region, ultimately following a lifecycle approach can put us on the path to circularity and tackle the scourge of plastic pollution; furthermore, a circular system change scenario will generate more and better jobs and bring significant economic savings. »

For more information, please contact Llorenç Milà i Canals, Chief, UNEP Life Cycle Initiative Secretariat: llorenc.milaicanals@un.org.

Pollution & Waste
To combat the widespread impact of pollution on society, UNEP has launched #FightPollution, a strategy for rapid, large-scale and coordinated action against air, soil and water pollution. The strategy highlights the impact of pollution on climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, and human health. Through science-based messaging, the campaign shows how vital the transition to a pollution-free planet is for future generations.

Bryce K. Locke