Racing against time: UN declares war on plastic

Turning off the Tap, a report released by the United Nations Environment Program, outlines a global mission to reduce plastic pollution by more than 80 per cent by 2040.

It comes after the discovery of rocks made of plastic were found on an island off the coast of Brazil.

Associate Professor at the School of Design and the Built Environment Atiq Zaman says the report outlines there is hope for a sustainable future.

Professor Atiq Zaman says there’s lots of work to be done to reduce plastic waste. Photo: Noah O’Reilly.

“There is a global plastic treaty that is happening, where negotiators, stakeholders, and country representatives now know what is possible in the timeframe we have.

“So by 2040, in 17 years time, it is actually possible to reduce plastic emissions by 80 per cent if we come along with all other countries,” he says.

However, Proffesor Zaman says Australia must try harder if the nation truly wants to reach the goal.

“We are only recycling 18 per cent of the plastic in Australia … and only three per cent are going towards making a new product,” he says.

Plastic production has been on a significant incline in recent decades, according to the UN report. The founder of Plastic Free July, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz says action must be taken now to reach the 2040 deadline.

“We need to turn the problem off at the tap globally … a clear roadmap for change through policies and a regulatory framework is critical,” she says.

“Plastic production on its current trajectory is expected to triple by 2060 … unless we actually reduce plastic production and make sure the plastics we used is in a circular fashion, we are never going to solve this problem.

“We can’t wait until 2040, we can’t even wait until 2024, we need to start taking action now.”

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz
Mallokup barista making a latte in a mug, rather than a takeaway cup. Photo: Noah O’Reilly.

Although Australia has implemented policies and practices to reduce plastic, for Australia to make noticeable change, Professor Zaman says the nation must think bigger.

“The report tells us we need integration in relation to stakeholders, particularly governmental stakeholders to promote infrastructures,” he says.

“And then we need a regulatory framework.

“It takes integration from the consumer … the industry to find plastic substitutes … and then the government, to fight against plastic pollution.”

Professor Zaman discusses the issues concerning Australia’s adoption of EU zero-plastic strategies. Video: Noah O’Reilly.

He says Australia can learn from the European Union’s zero-emissions practices, however, the country must be conscious of its available resources.

“They are not just looking at bans of single-use plastics, but they are actually looking at measures to transition to a circular economy,” Ms Prince-Ruiz says.

Despite the need for change, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ms Prince-Ruiz says “banning problematic single-use plastic, setting targets for recycling, banning plastic waste exports … introducing container deposit schemes, and making investments to reduce our domestic recycling” are beneficial practices.

In fact, the Curtin Student Guild has implemented its own policies and practices about zero-plastic, which campus cafes must abide by.

Mallokup baristas follow Guild guidelines, pouring a coffee into a mug at a discounted price. Photo: Noah O’Reilly.

Mallokup barista April Kate says “we are not using plastic cups anymore when we are serving cold drinks and when you bring your own keep cup you receive a 30-cent discount on top of guild discount,” she says.

“This is not a café-specific thing; this is a Guild-specific thing. This café is part of the Curtin Student Guild, and this is one of their policies.”

Ms Prince-Ruiz says everyone can act and implement practices into their own lives to reduce plastic use.

Hear more from Rebecca Prince-Ruiz.