Reducing the use of plastic seems to be one of the easiest environmental steps people can take . We reuse bags, put coffee to go in our own cups or recycle our plastic bottles and feel good about ourselves. But it is not that simple. Plastic pollution continues to cause immense damage to our planet .
There is no corner of the Earth, from the top of the mountain to the sea trench , left untouched by plastic. You see it everywhere: disposable bags drifting underwater , pale plastic imitations of jellyfish; crumpled and discolored bottles strewn along the roads; takeaways and shampoo bottles overflowing with the entrails of dead whales.
The chemicals in plastics can drastically change the normal functioning of our hormones. Microplastics pose a threat to coastal communities where marine species are the main food. A 1% decline in marine ecosystem services could result in an annual loss of $500 billion in global ecosystem benefits. Plastic is made of polymers, mostly derived from petroleum and natural gas. It's a huge driver of global warming.
We need a system change that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics, from raw material extraction to alternatives to improved waste management. We must innovate and eliminate unnecessary, avoidable or problematic products. Design products for reuse and recycling and make sure it happens. Eliminate dangerous additives. By doing so, we could reduce the volume of plastics entering our oceans by more than 80% by 2040 and reduce the production of virgin plastic by 55%. We could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% and create 700,000 additional jobs, mainly in southern countries.
Nations have a chance to make this new economy a reality if they agree to start negotiations on a strong and comprehensive global agreement to tackle plastic pollution at the fifth meeting of the United Nations Assembly for Environment (UNEA-5) - the world 's highest decision -making body for the environment .
There is momentum. Since September 2021, more than 150 countries have expressed interest in negotiating a global deal, while 74 major companies have urged them to do so. Such an agreement should be ambitious and accelerate the impact of plastics, on land and at sea, throughout their life cycle. This would allow us to build on the progress made so far, which is not negligible. As part of the New Plastics Economy global commitment , for example , plastic packaging companies have declared that they will move away from single - use products . Financial institutions support this commitment.
Meanwhile , awareness of the issue is at an all-time high. But being aware of the runaway truck speeding towards us is not the same as getting out of its way. Demand for plastics continues to rise, with the pandemic exacerbating the problem. Companies continue to invest in new production: some 20 asset managers own more than $300 billion in shares in the parent companies of producers of single-use plastic products. We need to influence these investments now. The right deal will send a strong message that the plastics industry needs to change.