Climate Action

First global assessment released on action to reduce single-use plastics

A new report by UN Environment has assessed global action on reducing plastic waste for the first time.

  • 05 June 2018
  • Adam Wentworth

A new report by UN Environment has assessed global action on reducing plastic waste for the first time.

Billed as a roadmap for sustainability, the report was launched alongside celebrations to mark World Environment Day in New Dehli. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, presented the report in the country's capital.

The estimates are stark: between 1 to 5 trillion plastic bags are used around the world each year. This is the equivalent of almost 10 million bags per minute.

In response, the report finds that more than 60 countries have introduced bans or levies to cut the pollution from single-use plastics. And it’s these measures when properly enforced, that the authors conclude are among the most effective strategies.

The assessment also provides a list of 10 key actions for policymakers and governments to use to reduce plastic waste. These include improving waste management practices, introducing financial incentives to change behaviours, and raising awareness among consumers.

Funding innovation and research to find alternatives to our plastic addiction and ensuring products are properly labelled are also vital.

“The assessment shows that action can be painless and profitable – with huge gains for people and the planet that help avert the costly downstream costs of pollution,” said Erik Solheim, in the report’s foreword. “Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it.”

In addition, governments need to bring businesses and the private sector on board as a major part of both the problem and solution. There are examples of this already happening; in the UK 50 major manufacturers and retailers recently committed to completely eliminating plastic packaging from its supply chain.

“The good news is that a growing number of governments are taking action and demonstrating that all nations, whether rich or poor, can become global environmental leaders. Rwanda, a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, is now one of the cleanest nations on earth,” added Solheim.