News outlets and environmental groups worldwide have been abuzz recently about the need for a “Global Plastics Treaty,” leaving many to wonder what this proposed treaty is all about and why it’s being discussed on such a large scale now.
Nearly 1,000 organizations have signed on to a call for the United Nations to negotiate a new legally binding global instrument that covers plastic pollution across its entire life cycle—from extraction to disposal. These organizations represent civil society, indigenous peoples, workers and trade unions, and other organizations, as well as scientists from around the world.
You can sign on too and encourage world leaders to support a bold & binding global plastics treaty.
These calls to action come at a crucial time, as representatives from around the world are set to meet at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in Nairobi from February 28–March 2, 2022. UNEA 5.2 brings together the 193 Member States of the United Nations, businesses, civil society (of which Plastic Pollution Coalition is a part), and other stakeholders to discuss and agree on policies to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. When representatives from around the world convene at the assembly in late February, the decisions they make will set the stage for how a new global plastics treaty will develop going forward.
We demand governments agree to a mandate coming out of UNEA 5.2 with specific legally-binding provisions and obligations covering the entire life cycle of plastics–from extraction, production, use, disposal, and remediation. It’s time for governments to prioritize the health of people and the planet over profit and corporate greed.BreakFreeFromPlastic
This is a critical moment to tell world leaders to support the Peru-Rwanda resolution which is the best foundation we have for a bold and binding global plastics treaty that will cover the full life cycle of plastics.
Industry will likely push for a global plastics treaty that is focused downstream, on “marine litter,” “ocean plastics,” or “waste management”, all of which avoid addressing the full impact of the plastic life cycle and would allow the fossil fuel industry to keep producing endless amounts of plastic and companies to continue greenwashing.
The Problem with Plastic—From Extraction to Disposal
Plastic pollutes at every stage of its existence, from extraction, use, to disposal:
- Over 300 million pounds of plastic is produced each year. Petroleum is first drilled and extracted from the Earth, polluting local environments and communities and contributing to climate change. The petroleum is then refined at petrochemical plants that harm frontline communities with toxic air and water pollution and worsen the climate crisis.
- Residual toxic chemicals from plastic leach into products which are consumed and digested, as well as absorbed by humans and animals contributing to a number of issues, including infertility.
- After disposal, the plastic that isn’t incinerated or dumped in a landfill enters the ocean and waterways, or is shipped overseas to countries with often even less waste management infrastructure.
- Though some local governments offer recycling as a disposal option for plastics, studies show that 91 percent of plastic isn’t recycled, and the 9% that is reported “recycled” is actually downcycled, shipped to other countries and/or burned.
- 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually.
- After prolonged exposure to light, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles until it becomes microscopic and impossible to detect. It is then inhaled and ingested unwittingly by humans and animals and has been linked to a number of deadly diseases. Every 30 seconds, someone in a developing country dies from a disease caused by plastic pollution and waste.
- Natural gas and crude oil are the primary first ingredients for the production of plastic, and a massive buildout over the past four years in America’s petrochemical infrastructure has led to a significant increase in carbon emissions.
- The U.S. plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power in this country by 2030, causing some advocates to regard plastic as “the new coal.”
What a Bold, Binding Global Plastics Treaty Must Include
While many governments worldwide have enacted legislation that addresses plastic pollution, these measures are largely focused on reduction (e.g., bans on specific single-use products or packaging). So far, there is very little comprehensive legislation that addresses the harmful impacts plastics pose across its full life cycle, taking into account extraction and refining, limiting the toxic chemicals used to produce plastics that make them unsafe for recycling and disposal, and incentivizing systemic shifts towards reuse and refill. That is why we need a bold Global Plastics Treaty that must:
- Be legally binding,
- Cover the whole lifecycle of plastic,
- Have an open mandate to address any issues relevant to plastic,
- Include transparent reporting, and
- Include technical & financial assistance.
Add your name and tell world leaders to support a legally binding global treaty on plastic pollution that addresses the entire life cycle of plastics, including extraction, production, transport, use, disposal, and remediation.