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New global policies could drastically reduce virgin plastic production and environmental pollution, aiming for a 30% reduction by 2040.

A groundbreaking report commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers for the Environment and Climate and executed by consultancy Systemiq, unveils the potential of global plastic policies to significantly curb virgin plastic production by 30% by 2040. This report is pivotal as nations are in the midst of formulating a global plastics treaty aimed at eradicating plastic pollution by 2050, a treaty that is anticipated to set international norms and regulations for handling this detrimental material.

The research delineates 15 global policy interventions across the plastic lifecycle that could lead to a substantial reduction in global plastic production compared to 2019 levels, amplify global recycling output seven-fold, and slash mismanaged plastics by 90% by 2040. The urgency of such interventions is underscored by projections that, in the absence of decisive action, virgin plastic production could escalate from 430 million tonnes in 2019 to 712 million tonnes in 2040, with corresponding increases in environmental pollution due to mismanaged plastics.

The escalating demand for plastics is not only a harbinger of increased greenhouse gas emissions but also provides a rationale for oil companies to persist in exploration activities. Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, the Icelandic minister of the environment, energy, and climate, emphasized the necessity for an ambitious plastic treaty to actualize a circular plastic economy and pristine oceans by 2040.

The report proposes a myriad of recommendations including the imposition of virgin plastic reduction targets, levies on virgin plastics, prohibitions on unnecessary single-use plastics, and the establishment of design rules for safe reuse and recycling. It also advocates for the implementation of policies addressing microplastics, which pose substantial risks to marine ecosystems and human health.

However, the report also cautions that even with the proposed interventions, approximately 13 million tonnes of plastics, including 5 million tonnes of microplastics, are anticipated to remain mismanaged by 2050, necessitating further innovations and research to address these residual plastics.

Among the recommendations set out in the research are virgin plastic reduction targets, a levy on virgin plastic that would fund solutions across the plastic lifecycle, bans on avoidable single-use plastics, restrictions on the plastic waste trade, mitigation and removal programs for plastics in environment, design rules for safe reuse, repair, durability and cost-effective recycling, and targets for collection and recycling rates.

The proposed policies are projected to result in net savings for governments globally between 2025 and 2040 by reducing the expenses related to plastic waste collection and management. However, the benefits would be predominantly realized in regions with established recycling and waste management infrastructure, leaving those without such facilities to escalate their spending.

According to GreenBiz, the debates surrounding the financing of these initiatives are expected to be contentious, with developing nations seeking financial aid from industrialized economies to combat an environmental crisis they did not instigate. The report also emphasizes the continued need for controlled disposal of plastics through 2040, especially for plastics that cannot be prevented or recycled, highlighting the disparity between developed and developing nations in terms of recycling infrastructure.

If the recommendations of the report are heeded, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics would remain at 2019 levels, representing a 40% reduction relative to current predictions for 2040. The report is a clarion call for unified action to mitigate plastic consumption and pollution by 2040, and there is a palpable optimism that governments will endorse a new treaty incorporating the proposed policies.

However, the realization of such a treaty is contingent on overcoming geopolitical tensions and financial constraints and necessitates radical innovations to address the environmental repercussions of the plastic industry. The report underscores the imperative of well-managed recycling systems and stringent policies to diminish the demand for virgin plastic and foster a more circular plastics economy.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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