We must protect the global plastics treaty from corporate interference

Top plastic pollution researcher Martin Wagner at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology writes, “A United Nations-backed agreement to end plastic pollution is within reach — but only if scientists, civil society and businesses unite against powerful vested interests.”

Wagner argues that the global plastic treaty currently under negotiation, if crafted intelligently and agreed upon by world leaders, could significantly reduce global reliance on fossil fuels and plastics. This, he writes, could diminish human and planetary exposure to hazardous chemicals and harmful plastic particles. But to get there, negotiators and observers will have to agree that vested interests with the fossil fuel and plastics industries should not guide the process.

Chemicals are a central aspect of the plastics issue. Although there is a wealth of scientific information on plastic chemicals and polymers to inform policymakers, implementing this evidence is challenging because information is scattered and not easily accessible. The PlastChem report and database address this issue by comprehensively and consistently synthesizing the state of the science on plastic chemicals, including their hazard properties, and their presence in polymers. The state-of-the-science report provides the publicly available evidence to inform policy development that protects public health and the environment.

The PlastChem project aims to address the fragmented understanding of the chemicals in plastics and their impact on health and the environment. This initiative has created a high-quality, comprehensive state-of-the-science report synthesizing the evidence about chemicals in plastics to inform an evidence-based policy development for better protecting public health and the environment.

This report investigates the increased manufacturing of PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) through state-sponsored labour transfers in China’s Uyghur Region and the routes by which the resulting building materials make their way into international markets. Research uncovers how a significant amount of PVC is made with forced labor.

This collaboration between the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and Material Research found the following:

  • the Uyghur Region has become a world leader in the production of PVC plastics in recent years, accounting for 10% of the world’s PVC.
  • The two largest PVC manufacturers in China are both state-owned enterprises based in the XUAR:
    – Xinjiang Zhongtai Chemical (2.33 million tons per year, from four locations)
    – Xinjiang Tianye (1.4 million tons capacity per year, from one location).
  • All of the Uyghur Region’s PVC companies have been active participants in the XUAR’s notorious labour transfer programs.
  • Those companies export to 73 intermediary manufacturers, who then export PVC-based building materials to at least 158 companies worldwide.

Plastics’ hormone-disrupting chemicals contribute substantially to disease and associated social costs in the United States, accounting for $250 billion in 2018 alone, or 1.22% of the gross domestic product. The costs of plastic pollution will continue to accumulate as long as exposures continue at current levels. Researchers stress that actions through the Global Plastics Treaty and other policy initiatives will reduce these costs in proportion to the actual reductions in chemical exposures achieved.

Consumer Reports tested popular fast foods and supermarket staples for chemicals commonly found in plastics called bisphenols and phthalates, which can be harmful to your health. Here’s what they found—and how to stay safer.

In the evening hours of February 3, 2023, an eastbound Norfolk Southern train derailed in the normally quiet town of East Palestine, Ohio, caught fire and spread a variety of hazardous chemicals over a broad area. In the months following this catastrophic failure, the residents in the region have had to deal with contaminated soil, surface water, and air pollution, and deal with the fears that exposure to some of the hazardous materials on that ill-fated 32N train might lead to significant health problems in the years ahead.

Vast quantities of hazardous materials are being moved near people’s homes, in an industry where derailments, collisions, and other incidents are all too regular of an occurrence. Fractracker Alliance has published a report and map quantifying rail incidents, and identifies risks to residents of the upper Ohio River Valley: