UN offers 'roadmap' to reducing plastic pollution by 80% by 2040

The UN report outlines how to address plastic pollution by creating a circular economy.

NEW YORK – The UN Environment Programme released a report on Tuesday that examines the economic and business models needed to reduce plastic pollution by 80 percent by 2040.

The report outlines a roadmap for governments and companies to use existing technologies to shift the market to a more sustainable circular economy.

A circular economy is a market in which products are reused or repurposed, rather than thrown away to then extract new resources to make new products.

The UNEP noted that shifting markets to a circular economy model can help reduce the number of plastics produced and slash plastic pollution that enters the environment by 80 percent by 2040.

To achieve this, the UNEP called for three market shifts: 

  • Reuse - Promoting reusable options, such as refillable bottles and bulk dispensers.
  • Recycle - Making recycling a more stable and profitable venture and taking measures to increase the share of economically recyclable plastics.
  • Reorient and diversify - Replacing products, such as plastic wrappers, with products made from alternative materials, such as paper or compostable materials.


By shifting toward a circular economy, the UNEP said the changes result in $1.27 trillion in savings, considering costs and recycling revenues. They also mentioned an additional $3.25 trillion in savings, which would come from avoiding health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation and litigation-related costs.

The shift will also benefit the workforce. According to the UNEP, these changes would result in an estimated net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040. Most of the new jobs would be in low-income countries, which would significantly improve the livelihoods of millions of workers, the UNEP said.


"If we follow this roadmap, including in negotiations on the plastic pollution deal, we can deliver major economic, social, and environmental wins," said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

The report noted a sense of urgency for taking action. According to the UNEP, a five-year delay may lead to an increase of 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040.