Why does the world need a tough deal on plastic pollution?


Plastic pollution is a problem viewed from different angles. Sometimes we see the promise of a replacement material, or even an emerging new technology that reevaluates it. This time, yes from the point of view of legislation that the subject is being discussed.

Last week, negotiators from around the world gathered in Ottawa this week to finalize it an international treaty that aims to drastically reduce plastic pollution. A process started in 2022 that should logically lead to an agreement in December next year. The challenge is colossal: it includes limiting the production of virgin plastic, promoting recycling and introducing financial mechanisms to support the management of plastic waste. However, the negotiations do not look easy, as some member states are against strict measures.

The “zero waste” goal: a big challenge

The goal of the contract in question is ambitious: reduce the amount of ” poorly handled waste » by 2040. These correspond to plastics that are not recycled or disposed of in a landfill or controlled incinerator and end up dispersed in the environment or burned in the open air.

The annual production of plastics grew exponentially, from 2 million tons in 1950 to 460 million tons in 2019 (and expected to triple by 2060). The problem is that measuring mismanaged waste is a very complex process. Estimates put 74 million tons produced annually. Without action on our part, this number could reach 122 million tons by 2050.

Researchers modeled the impact of different policies on plastic waste. In order to achieve the goal of “zero waste”, essential measures will be combined downstream (such as speeding up the recycling process) a against the stream (such as limiting the production of virgin plastic).

Maragaret Spring is a legal specialist and conservation manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. She also presides the Plastics Expert Group of the International Scientific Council, providing scientific advice for drafting the contract : ” I have never seen a new diplomatic process move so fast and science try to catch up to this extent. (…) We must do all we can “.

Plastic: a global scourge

A new report from the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory (California) makes an alarming finding. In 2019, the production of plastics generated an equivalent 2.24 gigatons of carbon dioxideor more than a quarter of the total carbon that humanity can emit to limit global warming to 1.5°C. If current trends continue at this rate, plastic emissions will triple by 2050, threatening to completely derail efforts to combat climate change.

But plastic does not only affect the climate. During its production and disposal, toxic substances are released into the environment, p serious consequences for human health.

A recent report estimated the health costs associated with plastic emissions (disability, disease, etc.) in the United States, and the result is truly staggering. They exceeded 920 billion dollars in 2015. We’ll let you imagine what it costs on a global scale. Research is increasingly linking plastics to serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes and even death.

Faced with the critical urgency of such a situation, the many threats they pose plastic on the environment and human health, is today the conclusion of a firm international agreement our only way out. The scientific consensus is firmly established and provides solid evidence to support strong measures. Only a few months left to find a compromise and allow ourselves to imagine a slightly brighter future for future generations.

  • The International Plastics Treaty has been in the works since 2022 and should lead to an agreement at the end of the year.
  • Its goal is to zero out improperly disposed waste by 2040, which requires the implementation of very important and strict measures.
  • Plastics damage ecosystems, the climate and human health, scientific evidence is accumulating more and more.

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