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Planet’s Plastic Problem

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PLANET’S PLASTIC PROBLEM

Plastic waste is everywhere, from the peak of Mount Everest to the floor of the Pacific Ocean, inside the bodies of animals and birds, and in human blood and breast milk.

From April 23 – April 29, thousands of negotiators and observers from 175 countries arrived in Ottawa, Canada, to begin talks regarding the very first global treaty to curb plastics pollution.

IS THIS THE FIRST TIME THEY ARE MEETING?

This is the fourth round of negotiations since 2022, when the UN Environmental Assembly agreed to develop a legally binding treaty on plastics pollution by the end of 2024.

The final round will take place in November this year, in South Korea.

WHY A GLOBAL PLASTICS TREATY IS NEEDED?

Since the 1950s, plastic production across the world has skyrocketed.

It increased from just 2 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 450 million tonnes in 2019.

If left unchecked, the production is slated to double by 2050, and triple by 2060.

IMPACT OF PLASTIC WASTE

  • Much of this plastic waste leaks into the environment, especially into rivers and oceans, where it breaks down into smaller particles (microplastic or nanoplastic).
  • These contain more than 16,000 chemicals which can harm ecosystems and living organisms, including humans — the chemicals are known to disturb the body’s hormone systems, cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders,

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PLASTICS & CLIMATE CHANGE

Plastic production and disposal are also contributing to climate change. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2019, plastics generated 1.8 billion tonnes of GHG emissions 3.4% of global emissions.

Roughly 90% of these emissions come from plastic production, which uses fossil fuels as raw material.

If current trends continue, emissions from the production could grow 20% by 2050, a recent report from the United States’ Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said.

WHAT CAN THE TREATY ENTAIL?

While none of the treaty’s details have currently been finalised, experts believe that it can go beyond just putting a cap on plastic production in UN member states.

  • The treaty can theoretically lay out guidelines on how rich nations should help poorer ones meet their plastic reduction target.
  • It may also ban “particular types of plastic, plastic products, and chemical additives used in plastics, and set legally binding targets for recycling and recycled content used in consumer goods,”
  • The treaty can mandate the testing of certain chemicals in plastics.
  • It can also have some details on just transition for waste pickers and workers in developing countries who depend on the plastic industry for a living.

SUPPORTERS V/S OPPOSERS OF THE TREATY

  • Some of the biggest oil and gas-producing countries, as well as fossil fuel and chemical industry groups are trying to narrow the scope of the treaty to focus just on plastic waste and recycling.
    • Treaty negotiations, so far, have been deeply polarising. Since the first round of talks in Uruguay in November 2022, oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran have opposed plastic production caps.

On the other end, there is a coalition of around 65 nations — known as the “High-Ambition Coalition” — which seeks to tackle plastic production. The coalition, which includes African nations and most of the European Union, also wants to end plastic pollution by 2040, phase out “problematic” single-use plastics, and ban certain chemical additives that could carry health risks.

 

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