Plastics: are they part of the zero-waste agenda or the toxic-waste agenda?
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Background: Plastics were considered as a magical material owing to their strong, non-degradable and versatile characteristics. After five decades of mass application, plastics’ property of non-biodegradability has become one of the key concerns for scientists, civil society and government owing to the pollution and damage that plastics cause to our environment. Globally we have generated 8.3bn tonnes of plastics since 1950s and around 9% has been recycled, 12% incinerated and the remaining 79% of the plastics has ended up in the environment. The core question is, should this waste be minimised through the zero-waste agenda or banned through the toxic-waste agenda?
Results: The study analyses the zero plastic waste agenda and the toxic plastic waste agenda. It analyses zero-waste practices at different levels including family to community, industry and city levels. In addition, the study investigates the need to phase out toxic plastics. The study identified the need for both approaches. As plastics promote the throwaway living which is responsible for generating undesirable waste, it should be tackled through better design principles and sustainable consumption practices for the short-term agenda. The study proposes a strategic zero plastic waste framework for moving towards a zero plastic waste society. At the same time, there is a need to identify those plastics that are leading to serious and toxic impacts through micro-particles that necessitate them to be phased out more quickly through transitioning to bio-plastics.
Conclusions: Both zero plastic and zero toxic agendas are urgently needed. The study concludes that at least three things in the short term need to be implemented simultaneously to achieve a zero plastic waste society. Firstly, through zero-waste design - to eliminate creating any unnecessary plastic waste through closed-loop design thinking. Secondly, through responsible and collaborative consumption - to avoid and reduce generating avoidable plastic waste. Finally, through zero-waste management - to prioritise the value, retain the wasted materials and recover all resources. The study also establishes that a new long-term agenda needs to be created to identify those plastics that must be phased out owing to their toxicity. Consequently, the study suggests a process to achieve it in line with the transition to the post fossil-fuel era through United Nations initiatives as a joint action of the Paris Agreement and the Basel Convention.
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