this week in Uruguay, scientists, environmentalists and government representatives—and of course, lobbyists—are gathering to begin negotiations on a United Nations treaty on plastics. These are just the beginning of the negotiations, so we don’t know how they will shape up, but some of the bargaining chips on the table include production limits and phasing out of chemical components. study is particularly troublesome. One draft resolution released in March resonated, acknowledging that “high and rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution are a serious environmental problem on a global scale, negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainable development.”
It’s a bureaucratic way of saying plastic pollution – both macro plastic like bags and bottles, and microplastics like fibers from synthetic clothing—is a disaster of the highest order on the planet and one that is getting exponentially worse. Humanity is currently creating a trillion pounds of plastic every yearand this number will double by 2045. Only 9 percent of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled—and now the United States only recycles 5 percent their plastic waste. The rest is either thrown into landfills or burned, or released into the environment. Rich countries also have a nasty habit of export their plastic waste to economically developing countrieswhere things are usually burned in open pits, Poison the surrounding communities. Plastic is also a main contributor of carbon emissions—they are made from fossil fuels, after all.
Environmentalists and pollution scientists agree that the way to fix the plastic problem not more recyclingor with giant tubes Collect garbage floating in the ocean, but by massively cutting its production. But while we don’t know what will eventually make it into the treaty — the negotiations are expected to last through 2024 — don’t expect it to end plastic production in a way that doesn’t make it any better. a peace treaty would end the war. Instead, it could push humanity towards treating their debilitating polymer addiction, for example by targeting single-use plastics. “We’re not going to have a plastic-free world – that’s not going to happen in the near future,” said Deonie Allen, a plastic scientist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “However, the way we currently use it, that is a choice we can make today.”
Think of the unlimited flow of plastic into the environment as a stream. If you want to treat the problem downstreamyou get rid of waste already in the environment, in a way that a clean up the beach do. Further upstream— literally — you can deploy river barge to stop the plastic before it reaches the ocean. But furthest you can go upstream just not producing plastic in the first place.
That’s why the treaty needs to include limits on plastic production, an international team of scientists Debate in the magazine Science after the draft resolution is published. “What we are really going to push for is the mandatory and mandatory limit,” said Jane Patton, campaign director for plastics and petrochemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law, who is attending the negotiations. for production. “We will drive changes in the way plastics are made, to remove harmful chemicals from the manufacturing process and the supply chain.”
The draft resolution actually calls for addressing the “full lifecycle” of plastics, that is, from production to disposal. But time will tell how successful the negotiators actually are in reaching an agreement on the limit. Ideally they would agree to an internationally binding limit, but it is also possible that individual countries would make their own commitments.