We don't know how they will shape up, but scientists, environmentalists, and government representatives are gathering to begin negotiations on a UN treaty on plastic. High and rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution represent a serious environmental problem at a global scale, negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.
Plastic pollution is a planetary catastrophe of the highest order, and one that is getting worse. The amount of plastic produced by humanity will double by 2045. The United States recycles less than 5 percent of its plastic waste. The rest of it can either be burned or thrown into a landfill. Plastic waste from wealthy nations is often exported to developing nations where it is often burned in open pits, poisoning surrounding communities. Fossil fuels are used to make plastic, which is a major contributor of carbon emissions.
Environmentalists and scientists who study pollution agree that the best way to fix the plastic problem is to drastically reduce its production. We don't know what will make it into the treaty, but we do know that it won't end the manufacturing of plastic like a peace treaty would. It could encourage humanity to treat its addiction to polymers with single-use plastic. Deonie Allen is a plastic scientist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Today, we can choose the way we use it.
The flow of plastic into the environment is not mitigated. You remove the waste that is already in the environment if you want to treat the problem downstream. Farther upstream, you might use river barges to stop the plastic from reaching the ocean. It's not possible to produce the plastic in the farthest upstream.
An international team of scientists argued in the journal Science that the treaty needs to include a limit on plastic production. The campaign manager of the Center for International Environmental Law, who is attending the talks, says they will push for mandatory caps on production. To eliminate toxic chemicals from the production and supply chain, we are going to push for changes.
The full lifecycle of plastic is what the resolution calls for. Time will tell how successful the negotiations will be. It is possible that individual countries will make their own commitments if they agree to an international binding limit.