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Plastic waste and pollution (including marine plastic litter and microplastic) have captured the attention around the world. Approximately 6,300 million tonnes of plastic are estimated to have reached end-of life since the start of mass production in the 1950s, with the considerable majority of this not recycled or used for energy recovery but accumulating in landfills and the environment.

Concerted and ambitious action is required from all actors along the value chain to transition from a linear system to a new model where plastics stay at their highest value within the economy.

UNEP’s work on the circularity of the plastics sector envisions a world without negative impacts from plastics, where plastics attain their highest value along the value chain, no plastics leak into and damage the environment, and maximal circularity for plastic materials is reached around the globe.

It takes a systemic approach to address plastic pollution by tackling the issue at the source to achieve a circular economy for plastics. It highlights the actions in specific life cycle stages, as well as the crossing-cutting solutions to link upstream and downstream stakeholders of the value chain to avoid actions done in isolation and which often prevent systemic progress. Together with governments, private sector, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders, UNEP works on 4 building blocks to achieve circularity for plastics, including:

      1. Crosscutting enabling conditions including institutions in terms of legal arrangements and policy, research and knowledge, stakeholder engagement and dialogue, financing and capacity development.
      2. Eliminate all problematic and unnecessary plastic products, including toxic additives;
      3. Innovate design, production and business models to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and free of toxic additives;
      4. Circulate all plastic products at their highest value within the economy to keep them out of the environment.

UNEP promotes such a circularity approach in relevant initiatives we are working on, including the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UNEP, the One Planet Network, the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and its Clean Seas campaign.

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