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Climate Action Q4 2023

How we can end plastic pollution faster, together

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Emma Elobeid

Senior Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

During the decades between COP1 and COP28, the climate situation has become — in many ways — worse. Plastic pollution is everywhere; greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production are expected to more than double by 2060.


In 1995, the same year that the very first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP1) was held in Berlin, I was pasting pictures of polar bears into a scrapbook and designing posters about recycling for a half-term holiday project. Back then, the true extent and implications of plastic waste and pollution were not well understood. There was no consensus view on how to tackle it at scale.

Collaborating for visible progress

Today, we have a clear view of how plastic contributes to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Crucially, we can also see a clear path towards a future without plastic waste or pollution. 

Over the past five years, signatories of the Global Commitment — the largest global voluntary effort to tackle plastic waste and pollution — have proven that progress is possible. Yet, the world remains off track.

As every child who has tried to ‘save the planet’ by picking up litter eventually discovers, while voluntary action is vital to show peers what is possible, change must be enacted through the whole system. We need global rules to create a level playing field, address the problem at the source and ensure that everyone acts in concert. 

We need global rules to create a level playing field, address the problem at the source and ensure
that everyone acts in concert.

Reduce, reuse and redesign

An ambitious UN treaty — based on legally binding global rules and comprehensive circular economy measures — presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity. This treaty must focus on substantially reducing our use of plastics, significantly increasing reuse models, and fundamentally redesigning our approach to plastic. We cannot recycle our way out of this. 

Just weeks before world leaders come together at COP28 in Dubai, governments will meet at the third round of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) in Nairobi. As we approach both, let us remember — despite the scale of the challenge — that this isn’t about achieving the impossible but about mandating the solutions we know are possible so that we can move forward further, faster, together.

Stay up-to-date with the latest negotiations for a UN treaty to accelerate the end of plastic pollution: www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/a-un-treaty-to-end-plastic-pollution

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