The Planet Desperately Needs the UN Plastics Treaty

in this week Uruguay, scientists, environmentalists, and government representatives—and lobbyists, of course—gather to begin negotiations on a United Nations plastics treaty. It’s just the beginning of the talks so we don’t know how they will shape up, but some bargaining chips on the table include production limits and the phasing out of particularly troublesome chemical ingredients. A draft resolution published in March set the scene, acknowledging that “high and rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution pose a serious global environmental challenge that negatively impacts the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.”

This is both plastic pollution and macroplastics such as bags and bottles and microplastics like fibers from synthetic clothing – a planetary catastrophe at the highest level and a catastrophe that is exponentially worse. Humanity currently produces one trillion pounds of plastic a year, and that will double by 2045. Only 9 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, and the United States currently only recycles 5 percent of its plastic waste. The rest is either thrown into landfills or incinerated, or escapes into the environment. Rich countries also have a bad habit of exporting their plastic waste to economically developing countries. Plastics are also a major source of carbon emissions – they are made from fossil fuels, after all.

Environmentalists and scientists studying pollution agree that the way to tackle the problem of plastic is to drastically reduce its production, not more recycling or the giant tubes that collect floating trash in the ocean. But while we don’t know what will be included in the deal (negotiations are expected to last until 2024), don’t expect a peace deal to end plastic production the way it would end a war. Instead, it could push humanity to treat its debilitating polymer addiction, for example, by targeting single-use plastics. “There won’t be a world without plastic; it won’t be in the very near future,” says plastics scientist Deonie Allen of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “However, the way we use it right now, He It is a choice we can make today.”

Think of the unrestricted flow of plastic into the environment as a flow. If you want to treat the problem downstream, you remove the waste that already exists in the environment the same way a beach cleaning would. farther upstreamYou can – literally – deploy river barges to stop the plastic before it reaches the ocean. But furthest The upstream you can go is to not manufacture the plastic in the first place.

An international team of scientists therefore argued that the agreement should put a cap on plastic production. Science After the draft resolution is published. “What we’re really going to push is for mandatory and enforced limitations on production,” says Jane Patton, plastics and petrochemicals campaign manager at the International Center for Environmental Law, who attended the talks. “We will push for changes in the way plastics are produced to remove toxic chemicals from manufacturing and the supply chain.”

The draft resolution does indeed require addressing the “full life cycle” of plastic from production to disposal. But time will tell how successful the negotiators will be in reaching agreement on an upper limit. Ideally, they would agree on an internationally binding border, but it is also possible for individual countries to honor their own commitments.

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