COVID-19 Has Grown Disposable Plastic. UNCTAD: «Less Pollution, More Jobs»

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How global trade policies can help solve the problem

According to the United Nations conferences on trade and devlopment (Unctad), lockdowns for coronavirus imposed worldwide have led to a 5% drop in greenhouse gas emissions, but the Covoid-19 pandemic has caused an increase in the pollution from disposable masks containing plastic, gloves and bottles of hand sanitizers and food packaging.

Roads, beaches and oceans have been invaded by a flood of waste from Covid-19 and Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Unctad’s director of international trade stresses that “Plastic pollution was already one of the biggest threats to our health. before the appearance of the coronavirus. The sudden explosion of daily use of products to ensure people’s safety and curb disease still aggravates things ».

According to the business consulting agency Grand View Research, the sale of disposable masks worldwide has gone from an amount of 800 million dollars in 2019 to 166 billion dollars in 2020. But Unctad warns that it is only part of the story. “Social distancing has also led to an influx of products delivered daily to home – packed in a plethora of packaging – while people turn to online shopping and take-away services. The resulting plastic waste is enormous. “

The UN agency takes the example of Singapore, where, during the 8 weeks of confinement ended June 1, the 5.7 million inhabitants of the island city-state threw away 1,470 tons more plastic waste from the sun takeaway food packaging.

According to the data collected by Unctad, about 75% of the plastics of the products related to the management of coronavirus are likely to become rubbish by cluttering up the landfills and drifting in our seas. And the costs are staggering: for example, for the United Nations environment program the negative impact of plastic waste on fishing, tourism and navigation amounts to about 40 billion dollars a year.

But Unctad also recalls that «Plastic is used in countless products that are exchanged daily on an international level, from cars and toys to household appliances. Even products that do not contain plastic, such as apples or chocolate bars, are shipped every year in millions of tons of plastic packaging “and, by presenting the World Trade Organization (WTO) to the Committee on Trade and the Environment ” Communication on trade in plastics, sustainability and devlopment”Published by Unctad on July 3, Coke-Hamilton. points out that “The production and consumption of plastics constitute a global system that has numerous commercial dimensions. But the important role that global trade policies could play in fighting plastic pollution has not received the attention it deserves. The number of commercial measures that mention plastics – such as technical regulations, subsidies, licenses and bans – registered with the WTO has grown by 28% every year for the past 10 years, indicating growing concern from members of this organization. But in the end, the lack of coordination of trade policies adopted by countries in their fight against plastic pollution limited the effectiveness of their efforts. There are limits to what a country can do on its own. The 164 developing and developed economies that make up the WTO have the ability to develop multilateral trade rules that could more effectively address the fundamental issues related to the world economy of plastics ».

In addition to regulating the production and consumption of plastic, Unctad urges governments and companies to identify plastic substitutes among materials that are not non-fossil fuels: «The list of non-toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable materials that could replace the plastic includes many materials known as glass, ceramic, natural fibers, paper, cardboard, rice husk, natural rubber and animal proteins. With developing countries that are the main suppliers of many plastic substitutes, growing global demand could offer them greener investment opportunities and new business opportunities. ” For example, developing countries provide 92% of world jute, with Bangladesh (74%) and India (9%) in the lead. And these Weights in 2019 also accounted for 94% of global natural rubber exports, led by Thailand (31.5%), Indonesia (30%) and Ivory Coast (8.5%). But developing countries have a great interest in the global plastics economy. Their share in overall plastic production increased from 43.5% in 2009 to 58% in 2018. And two out of three jobs in the plastic manufacturing sector are in the southern countries of the world.

Coke-Hamilton concludes: “Since many plastic substitutes also require a lot of manpower, changes in production and consumption patterns could create new jobs.”

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