Plastic Pollution. The pressing case for natural and environmentally friendly substitutes to plastics.

This UNCTAD publication shines a light on the implications of plastic pollution at all levels over the last few years, from individual consumers to national and international policy makers. Current trends are not in favor of reducing such pollution, on the contrary, as the global plastic production trend is increasing. It is estimated that there were 369 million tons of plastics traded in 2020 alone, which is $1.2 trillion in value, a significant increase from $933 billion the year before (UNCTAD, 2022d). Plastics’ omnipresence has pushed waste management capacities to their limits; thus, it is of the utmost importance to identify what materials or products could successfully substitute plastics and how to implement this transition. There have been many international efforts put into action to tackle the problem of plastics, with the majority still focusing on downstream strategies. At the same time, there are a growing number of initiatives addressing and consequently stimulating changes throughout the whole plastic life cycle in a move towards the development of circular economies, including strategies to reduce resource use as well as material-shift towards substitutes to plastics throughout value chains.

This publication draws some overarching conclusions and recommendations to guide more informed decision-making towards a sustainable material transition which could also bring about social gains through expanded market opportunities.

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April 2023




Report, Research Outputs



Plastic Pollution


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