All-trash ‘Mount Rushmore’ depicting G-7 leaders erected for summit

When world leaders gather at the G-7 summit in Cornwall, Britain, this week, they’ll be able to gaze out across the water and see their own faces on a massive Mount Rushmore-style sculpture made out of electronics waste.“Mount Recyclemore” sits on beach dunes opposite the Carbis Bay Hotel, where the summit is taking place. It depicts President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.The unusual piece of folk art is the work of Joe Rush, a sculptor who told the BBC that he had been commissioned by musicMagpie, a British retailer that sells secondhand electronics. Its goal is to call to attention to the environmental problems caused by electronic waste.“We have this looking at them, and hopefully we’re going to prick their conscience and make them realize they’re all together in this waste business,” Rush said. “The key message is talk to each other, and let’s sort this mess out.”Made from old scrap metal, keyboards, telephones, circuit boards, iPads, computer monitors and other unwanted items, the sculpture appeared this week and is still being completed, according to CornwallLive. Rush says that it highlights the fact that more electronic devices need to be made in a way that allows them to be reused or recycledElectronic waste often contains dangerous chemicals that can become environmental hazards when incinerated or dumped in a landfill. The United Nations and International Telecommunication Union estimate that 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were produced in 2019, an all-time high.“E-waste poses a huge threat to the environment — and developed nations are among the worst offenders for producing it,” musicMagpie said in a statement. “With the G-7 summit taking place in Cornwall, we decided to create a sculpture to send a message.”Four of the G-7 nations — the United States, Japan, Germany and Britain — rank as the top producers of electronic waste, the company said.

Ocean scientists tell G7 to agree on polar regions and plastic pollution

G7 leaders should act to protect the world’s oceans by pushing for agreements on plastic pollution and protecting the Arctic and Antarctic, experts said.
Politicians meeting in Britain this week were also urged to treat poverty as a cause of pressure on natural resources.
The UK is pushing a green agenda at the G7 in the run-up to the Cop26 climate summit, which it is hosting in November.

Leaders are meeting in Cornwall, south-west England where, scientists said, the impact of rising sea levels is being felt.
At a briefing on Wednesday, scientists called for leaders to treat the oceans as a key part of climate change.

“I would say to the G7, we need to have much more ambitious targets on marine conservation,” said Prof James Scourse, a marine scientist at the University of Exeter.
“We need to strengthen the Antarctic Treaty that preserves the Antarctic continent.
“We need to strongly strengthen international agreements on non-exploitation of the Arctic, which is opening up because of sea ice and so on.
“I would also say that we need to look very carefully at trawling and put a complete moratorium on deep marine mining.”

The Carbis Bay Hotel, near St Ives, Cornwall, is hosting the G7 gathering. Bloomberg

Oceans in danger
Scientists called for the effects of climate change in the oceans to be highlighted, as well as the more visible ones on land.
“The invisibility of a problem gives politicians cover for not doing anything about it,” said Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of Exeter.
“We need to make this problem of what’s going on in the oceans much more visible.”
Prof Scourse said climate change already “baked in” to the oceans was bound to continue for a long time because it took about 1,000 years for global waters to completely mix.
“We can see the impact of climate change on terrestrial systems on the land, in the habitat in which we live as human beings,” he said.

The ocean is telling us that it’s under a lot of stress
Heather Koldewey

“But many of the most profound and immediate impacts that register the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing are oceanic.”
Prof Heather Koldewey, a senior technical adviser at the Zoological Society of London, said the G7 had an “enormous potential to really make a difference at this summit”.
Prof Koldewey called for a global treaty on plastic pollution to tackle what she said was one of the most visible aspects of damage to the ocean.
In one experiment, scientists are releasing bottles off the coast of Cornwall to provide data on how marine pollution spreads.
This data could feed into tsunami and weather warning systems, and attempts to understand the effect of climate change, Prof Koldewey said.
There is a “real opportunity” for the G7 to address the effects of climate change on the ocean, she said.
“That’s including things like overfishing, the half of the ocean that’s currently under very limited protection and looking at a high-seas treaty that’s robust.
“These are all things that we can actually do something about – a global treaty for plastic pollution and others. There is this real opportunity to act.
“We’re asking people to listen to the science and also to listen to the ocean. The ocean is telling us that it’s under a lot of stress.”

A volunteer collects plastic waste and debris on the French coast. AFP 

Poverty and climate crisis
The UK this week promoted a commitment by 80 countries to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.
The target was backed by G7 environment ministers at an online preparatory summit last month.
Hans-Otto Poertner, who co-chairs a working group of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the G7 could help to bring about a social transformation that was needed to address the causes of climate change.
“If we bring the countries together and look at the countries with the largest and strongest economic power, they are the ones that actually should also lead on that transformation,” he said.
“The equality issue and the poverty eradication issue, that is so much the root cause of the pressure on natural systems.
“We need transformation in the industrial systems, in the economic systems, and in the way society functions.”

Water, at the heart of Africa's environmental challenges

Water is essential to the balance of the environment. As a liquid, it contributes to the formation of landforms and the emergence of life (plant, animal and human), and remains essential for its maintenance. As a gas, water forms a screen in the atmosphere and protects the biosphere from solar ultraviolet radiation. Unfortunately, in Africa, this resource is unevenly distributed and degraded due to a lack of sustainable and integrated management. This is compounded by persistent water stress caused by climate change.
The environment is full of different water resources. Surface water includes all running or stagnant water bodies in direct contact with the atmosphere. This includes rivers and lakes. According to statistics published in 2019 by the African Water Association (AfWA), three lakes in Africa account for 30% of the world’s freshwater reserves. Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania covers an area of 32,900 km²; Lake Victoria with 68,100 km² at the intersection of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania; and Lake Malawi which covers 29,500 km². Its shores are shared by Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. These water reserves are havens for local fauna and flora, and eventually evaporate or run off into the groundwater, thus recharging the water table.
Unlike surface water, groundwater is invisible to the naked eye. A large part of these freshwater reserves is located at a depth of more than 50 metres, particularly in the Saharan areas. They are stored in natural reservoirs called aquifers. According to the AfWA, the African continent has 660,000 km3 of groundwater, an invaluable supply of drinking water for humanity. According to the United Nations (UN), only 4% of Africa’s water reserves are exploited, and the lack of sanitation infrastructure causes losses estimated at some $28.4 billion per year, or nearly 5% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Read Also – AFRICA: Saving the oceans on land
Finally, there are the seas and oceans. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), they cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. Seas and oceans provide food, regulate the climate and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. These vast bodies of water are also the foundation of much of the world’s economy, supporting sectors ranging from tourism to fishing to international shipping.
While the environment provides enormous quantities of water, it is also under pressure from both human and climatic causes: pollution from waste and effluents, extreme droughts, floods and flooding, deforestation and wetland destruction.
When waste degrades the quality of water resources
In Africa, marine pollution is reaching alarming proportions. One of the causes of this phenomenon is the uncontrolled disposal of solid waste (such as plastic, household, electronic, organic, medical, faecal sludge, etc.). In Tunisia, for example, plastic pollution led to the suspension of 23 beaches in 2020. This type of waste is also responsible for the destruction of aquatic biodiversity. The other source of water pollution on the continent is wastewater. These effluents from households and industries alter the quality of the water, making it unfit for human consumption and degrading the biodiversity that evolves there.

A beach polluted by waste©Golf_chalermchai/Shutterstock

In Tunisia, Lake Bizerte, located at the northern tip of Tunisia, has been polluted for many years by the steel company El Fouleedh, the Tunisian Company of Refining Industries (Stir) and the company Les Ciments de Bizerte. The Salt Lake, which covers an area of 120 km2, received huge quantities of heavily polluted industrial effluents which gave it a reddish colour. Since 2016, a project to clean up the lake, which connects to the Mediterranean, has been underway and will be completed by 2023.
In central Zambia, the Nchanga copper mine operated by Vedanta and its local subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) spills sulphuric acid and other toxic waste that not only affects rivers but also permeates groundwater. The pollution phenomenon also affects the main sources of income for the population, which are agriculture and fishing. In 2015, more than 2,500 Zambians filed a lawsuit against London-based Vedanta and won their case in 2021. Unfortunately, this compensation only mitigates a problem that will ultimately cause irreparable damage to the environment and people’s health.
There is also the Franco-British oil company Perenco, whose oil flows into the waterways of Étimboué, a peninsula of about 5,700 souls in western Gabon. Perenco extracts 95,000 barrels of oil per day from the area, through antiquated facilities that are causing the leaks. This oil spill has led to the disappearance and desertion of a large part of the fish population.
Cases of pollution such as those mentioned above are legion in Africa. But various initiatives to preserve the various water resources are gradually being put in place, such as the GloLitter Partnerships (GLP) programme, which supports African countries in the fight against ocean pollution by plastic waste. The programme is implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Pollution of a river by industrial waste©Golf_chalermchai/Shutterstock

Other examples include the African Environmental Health and Pollution Management Programme (AEHPMP) recently launched in Ghana to reduce water and soil pollution from mercury and e-waste, and wastewater reuse projects being developed across much of the continent, mainly in North Africa. Treated wastewater is returned to nature, or used for irrigation. In some rare cases, such as in Namibia, the effluent is even recycled into drinking water.
In Africa, the water crisis is also caused by drought. This phenomenon, which has been severely aggravated locally by climate change, is the cause of water stress, which mainly affects arid areas. This rapid decrease in water resources mainly affects agricultural production, the livestock sector and the supply of drinking water.
Strategies to cope with water stress
To improve water supply, governments are turning to alternative solutions. In addition to the reuse of treated wastewater, desalination of brackish water and seawater is a way to cope with water stress caused by climate change. In Egypt, at least 14 seawater desalination plants are expected to be commissioned by 2022. The reverse osmosis plants, which will have an overall capacity of 476,000 m3 per day, are being built in the governorates of Marsa Matrouh, Red Sea, North Sinai, South Sinai, Port Said, Daqahliya, Suez and Alexandria. The new facilities will bring the number of desalination plants in operation in Egypt to 90, with a production capacity of 1.3 million m3 per day.
The Egyptian government expects to have a production capacity of 6.3 million m3 per day by 2050. For the next five years, Cairo wants to build 47 reverse osmosis plants with an investment of 2.8 billion dollars.

A plant dedicated to the desalination of sea water©Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock

In South Africa, Coega Development Corporation (CDC) will build a seawater desalination plant. The facility, to be located in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, will have a capacity of 15,000 m3 per day. In addition to supplying Nelson Mandela Bay with drinking water, the future plant should boost the economy of this city of 1.25 million inhabitants, which is plagued by drought.
In addition to desalination, Morocco is considering the construction of dams as a response to its water stress, which ranges from 1,000 to 1,700 m3 of available fresh water per year per inhabitant. This could improve water storage, although it raises questions of use and does not solve the resource issue.
Read Also – AFRICA: the urgent need to restore degraded ecosystems
However, the programme also foresees the preservation of the resource and the increase of water supply in rural areas. Emergency measures also include the irrigation of 510,000 hectares of plantations. The initiative is expected to benefit 160,000 farmers. Traditional irrigation systems will be renovated and upgraded with drip irrigation, for example, which combines yield efficiency and intelligent resource conservation, but often leads to a rebound effect. The new emergency drought programme in Morocco will run from 2020 to 2027 at a total cost of US$12 billion.
The ultimate goal is to restore water ecosystems that are currently degraded.
Inès Magoum

Maui Ocean Center to provide beach cleanup materials

June 8, 2021, 8:46 AM HST The MOC Marine Institute Honu Hero Beach Cleanup Program kicks off June 8. Photo Courtesy: Maui Ocean Center

In honor of World Ocean Day, the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute announced a beach cleanup program that allows residents and visitors to Maui to take a hands-on approach to help protect marine environments and collect data.

“Plastic pollution is one of the most significant threats impacting our ocean today,” according to a Maui Ocean Center announcement.

To participate in the Honu Hero Beach Cleanup Program, pick up a beach cleanup kit from the Maui Ocean Center, choose a beach to clean and return the kit and datasheet once complete. Participants can post a picture on Instagram of their cleanup using #HonuHero to receive a free Honu Hero sticker.

The beach cleanup kit includes a bucket for debris, datasheet, clipboard, pencils and gloves. Kits are available for pickup and drop-off between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day of the week at MOC Marine Institute’s table near the front exit of Maui Ocean Center.

To pick up the cleanup kit beyond scheduled times, make arrangements at [email protected]

Data on Plastic Pollution

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADThe following data comes from the MOC Marine Institute:

10 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually1 million marine animals are killed by plastic pollution every year.Half of all plastic produced is for single-use purposesLess than 9% of all plastic gets recycledHumans eat an estimated 40 pounds of plastic in a lifetime

Europe’s drive to slash plastic waste moves into high gear

In Europe, beachgoers have grown accustomed to the dispiriting sight of plastic garbage strewn along shorelines. Indeed, 85 percent of the continent’s saltwater beaches and seas exceed pollution standards on marine litter. The Mediterranean Sea is the most defiled of all, with researchers collecting an average of 274 pieces of plastic refuse per 100 meters of shoreline. And beneath the waves, microplastics have turned coastal waters into toxic “plastic soups.”
In an all-out push to clean up Europe’s beaches — one plank in the European Union’s trailblazing efforts to address the almost 28 million U.S. tons of plastic waste it generates annually — a ban comes into effect July 3 that halts the sale in EU markets of the 10 plastic products that most commonly wash up on the continent’s shores. These include, among other items, plastic bottle caps, cutlery, straws and plates, as well as Styrofoam food and beverage containers.

The ban is the most visible sign of Europe’s efforts to curtail plastics pollution by creating the world’s first-ever circular plastics regime. By the end of this decade, this will lead to a ban on throwaway plastics, the creation of a comprehensive reuse system for all other plastics, and the establishment of an expansive and potentially lucrative European market for recycled plastics.

A raft of EU measures is now driving investments and innovation toward circular solutions that, according to experts and EU officials, will come to define Europe’s low-carbon economy and enhance its global competitiveness. A circular economy is one in which products and materials are kept in use along their entire life cycle, from design and manufacturing to reuse or recycling. In contrast to the current, linear system, products don’t end up in the rubbish bin, but rather are reintroduced into the production process.

“The EU is taking the creation of a circular economy very seriously, and plastics are at the center of it.”

Under the EU Plastics Strategy, put forward in 2018, waste guidelines will overhaul the way plastic products are designed, used and recycled. All plastic packaging on the EU market must be recyclable by 2030, and the use of microplastics circumscribed.
The measures are the toughest in the world and have already pushed plastic packaging recycling rates in the EU to an all-time high of 41.5 percent — three times that of the United States. The EU has set a target for recycling 50 percent of plastic packaging by 2025, a goal that now looks within reach. And in 2025, a separate collection target of 77 percent will be in place for plastic bottles, increasing to 90 percent by 2029.

In India’s largest city, a ban on plastics faces big obstacles. Read more.

Coca-Cola sued for false advertising over sustainability claims

In a complaint filed against the company on Friday, Earth Island Institute, which publishes the Journal, alleges that Coca-Cola’s sustainability-focused statements amounts to greenwashing, or in legal terms, false and deceptive advertising. It points out that despite heavy marketing of its so-called green image, the company is the number one plastic waste generator in the world. Coca-Cola has also been named the number one corporate polluter for three years in a row by the nonprofit Break Free from Plastic’s Global Cleanup and Brand Audit report, which assesses plastic waste collected across dozens of countries.

The lawsuit, which was filed in District of Columbia Superior Court under DC’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, does not seek damages, but rather aims to put a stop to the beverage giant’s deceptive practices. “With this lawsuit we are simply asking that Coca-Cola be honest with consumers about its plastic use so that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions,” says Sumona Majumdar, general counsel for Earth Island Institute.

In addition to its general sustainability-minded statements, Coca-Cola advertises its recycling initiatives online and is one of hundreds of companies that have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, pledging to help with the plastic pollution crisis and aiming for 100 percent reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic by 2025. But this pledge, too, falls flat. According to Break Free from Plastic, the company has made little headway towards addressing plastic waste since signing the pledge in 2018. And in fact, the lawsuit alleges, Coca-Cola has actively opposed legislation that would bolster recycling in the US.

As the complaint puts it: “Contrary to Coca-Cola’s representations, the company remains a major plastic polluter, has made no significant effort to transition to a ‘circular economy’ or otherwise operate as a ‘sustainable’ enterprise, and has a long history of consistently breaking its public promises on sustainability goals.”

Ideally, advocates say, Coca-Cola and other beverage companies would green their operations by increasing use of reusable and refillable packaging. They would rely less heavily on producing recyclable packaging and promoting consumer recycling, tactics which have so far proven fairly ineffective at addressing the plastic pollution crisis and which justify continued plastic production.

“We want the Coca-Cola company to stop the greenwashing and false claims, be transparent about the plastic they use, and be a leader in investing in deposit and refill programs for the health of humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and our environment,” Julia Cohen, co-founder and managing director at Plastic Pollution Coalition, an Earth Island project, says in a statement.

Greenwashing is nothing new. And it isn’t limited to Big Plastic. As consumer attention increasingly pivots to environmental issues, companies are trying more than ever to portray responsible environmental ethics. This tactic is particularly visible in the fossil fuel industry, which has begun increasingly using climate-friendly buzzwords like “net zero” and “carbon neutral” to describe itself while doing little to actually address its enormous climate impact.

Like Big Plastic, Big Oil has been called out for these claims. In 2019, the nonprofit environmental law group ClientEarth sued BP, alleging that the company’s advertising touted low-carbon technologies while nearly all of its spending went towards oil and gas. BP withdrew its ads.

More recently, several environmental nonprofits, including Earthworks, Global Witness, and Greenpeace USA, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over similar practices by another oil and gas company, Chevron. The complaint, filed in March, alleges that Chevron engaged in deceptive advertising by overstating its commitment to reducing fossil fuel pollution and its investments in renewable energy. In April, the city of New York sued Exxon, Shell, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute, similarly alleging greenwashing. Also in April, ClientEarth released a large investigation comparing the advertisements released by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and several other oil and gas companies, with their overall climate impact and their progress towards reducing that impact. The group found, unsurprisingly, that the two did not align.

“We’re currently witnessing a great deception, where the companies most responsible for catastrophically heating the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns about how their business plans are focused on sustainability,” Johnny White, one of ClientEarth’s lawyers, told The Guardian.

Perhaps lawsuits like those against BP and now Coca-Cola will help end these great deceptions. At the very least, they will hopefully inform consumers about the true nature of the products they are purchasing.

Global treaty to regulate plastic pollution gains momentum

The simple plastic bag has come to symbolize the world’s growing problem with plastic waste. Yet globally, there are seven definitions of what is considered a plastic bag—and that complicates efforts to reduce their proliferation. Banning bags, along with other plastic packaging, is the most commonly used remedy to rein in plastic waste. So far, 115 nations have taken that approach, but in different ways. In France, bags less than 50 microns thick are banned. In Tunisia, bags are banned if they are less than 40 microns thick.Those kinds of differences create loopholes that enable illegal bags to find their way to street vendors and market stalls. Kenya, which passed the world’s toughest bag ban in 2017, has had to contend with illegal bags smuggled in from Uganda and Somalia. So has Rwanda. Likewise, millions of mosquito nets that Rwanda imported from the United States arrived in plastic packaging for which the chemical content was not disclosed—even after a Rwandan recycler inquired. That rendered them unrecyclable.For global companies like Nestlé, which sells food products in 187 countries, that means complying with 187 different sets of national regulations on plastic packaging.These are but three examples of hundreds of contradictory policies, inconsistencies, and lack of transparency that are embedded in the global plastics trade in ways that make it hard to gain control of the growing accumulation of plastic waste. Not only do definitions differ from country to country, there also are no global rules for such practices as determining which plastic materials can be mixed together in one product; that creates a potential nightmare for recycling. Internationally accepted methods for how to measure plastic waste spilling into the environment don’t exist. Without uniform standards or specific data, the job of fixing it all becomes essentially impossible. Now, help may be on the way. Support is growing for a global treaty to address plastic waste. At least 100 nations have already expressed support for a plastic treaty, and those involved in preliminary talks are optimistic that one could be approved on a pace that could make a difference, much as the 1987 landmark Montreal protocol prevented depletion of the stratospheric ozone.“Fundamentally, governments will not be able to do what they are supposed to do if they can’t count on an international partnership and international framework. It is not going to work,” says Hugo-Maria Schally, head of the multilateral environmental cooperation unit at the European Commission. “It is a concrete problem that asks for a concrete solution and a global agreement will provide that.”Schally’s message to industry is direct: “You can work with public policy (to make) plastic sustainable and that means you can be part of the solution, or you can become defensive and then you’re part of the problem.”A surge in wasteThe primary argument against trying to push a treaty through the United Nations and its 193 member states is that negotiations can drag on for a decade or more, and on the issue of plastics, there is little time to spare. New plastics waste is created yearly at a rate of 303 million tons (275 million metric tons). To date, 75 percent of all plastic ever produced has become waste, and production is expected to triple by 2050. New research this year suggests that the accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans is also expected to triple by 2040 to an average of 32 million tons (29 million metric tons) a year. With numbers like those, it’s no surprise that none of the nations that are the most significant contributors of plastic waste to the environment have been able to gain control of their mismanaged waste. And though global treaties take time, no environmental issue of this magnitude has been significantly addressed without one. Plastic pollution has been on the agenda at the United Nations since 2012. In 2019, when the UN Environmental Assembly last gathered face-to-face in Nairobi, talks about plastic waste were stymied primarily by the United States, which opposed a binding treaty. The only agreement that emerged was an agreement to keep talking.Over the last decade, the ground has shifted dramatically. “In 2015, no country had expressed an interest in pursuing a global treaty,” says Erik Lindebjerg, who is spearheading the World Wildlife Fund’s plastic waste campaign from Oslo. He helped oversee publication of The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, a report prepared in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which details how a treaty could solve an assortment of business problems. “In one sense, we’ve reached a saturation point, so you suddenly see impacts everywhere.”Industry also has reversed its opposition.  “We have evolved our position as the situation has evolved,” says Stewart Harris, an American Chemistry Council executive speaking on behalf of the International Council of Chemical Associations, a global chemistry association of which the ACC is a member. “We were concerned with the binding element of a global [treaty]. We felt we weren’t ready for that yet,” he says. “And now that’s changed. Now we do believe a global instrument is needed to help us achieve the elimination of waste in the environment and help companies achieve voluntary commitments.”What’s on the negotiating table Preliminary talks are already underway, all aimed at the next in-person meeting in Nairobi, where hopes are high that agreement can be reached to move ahead with treaty discussions.Scandanavian nations traditionally have run talks about plastic waste, with Norway, as current president of the UN Environmental Assembly, taking the lead. But other groups of nations have been meeting and pushed the conversation forward. Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, and Vietnam have held several sessions, with another planned for September. Small island nations, inundated by drifting plastic waste and with much to lose in climate change, have conducted preliminary talks of their own.The overarching goal of early talks has been to set a specific date to eliminate plastic from spilling into the oceans. The rest of the agenda is centered around four topics: a  harmonized set of definitions and standards that would eliminate inconsistencies such as the definition of a plastic bag; coordination of national targets and plans; agreement on reporting standards and methodologies; and creation of a fund to build waste management facilities where they are most needed in less developed countries.Christina Dixon, an oceans specialist at the Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental nonprofit based in London and Washington, says that the existing methods for managing the plastic marketplace are not sustainable. “We need to find a way to look at plastic with a global lens. We have a material that is polluting throughout its lifecycle and across borders. No one country is able to address the challenge by itself.”The power of the public—and of dialoguePublic opinion is also prompting change. Plastic pollution ranks as one of the three most-pressing environmental concerns, along with climate change and water pollution, according to a 2019 survey included in the Business Case for a UN Treaty report. Young activists who took to the streets in 2019 to protest lack of action on climate have been paying attention to plastic waste. Multiple industry studies show that Gen Z and Millennials are pushing makers of consumer products towards sustainability practices.Then, there’s a simple matter that the opposing sides are now talking to each other. In 2019, Dave Ford, a former advertising executive whose company had been hosting corporate leaders on expensive trips to Antarctica, Africa and the like, decided to host a four-day cruise and talkathon from Bermuda to the Sargasso Sea for 165 people working on plastic waste. The passenger roster ranged from executives at Dow Chemical to Greenpeace. In a move designed to get maximum publicity, a Greenpeace activist roomed with a Nestlé executive in what became known on board as the Sleeping With The Enemy moment. The ploy worked. Many members from the cruise are still talking to each other and tensions that had been building eased. Ford has since founded the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network and recruited additional activists and industry executives to join the conversation.“What we’re trying to do is get all the parties historically fighting each other to understand where everybody sits,” Ford says. “In a lot of cases, they might be closer than they think.”

Global treaty to regulate plastic pollution gains momentum

The simple plastic bag has come to symbolize the world’s growing problem with plastic waste. Yet globally, there are seven definitions of what is considered a plastic bag—and that complicates efforts to reduce their proliferation. Banning bags, along with other plastic packaging, is the most commonly used remedy to rein in plastic waste. So far, 115 nations have taken that approach, but in different ways. In France, bags less than 50 microns thick are banned. In Tunisia, bags are banned if they are less than 40 microns thick.Those kinds of differences create loopholes that enable illegal bags to find their way to street vendors and market stalls. Kenya, which passed the world’s toughest bag ban in 2017, has had to contend with illegal bags smuggled in from Uganda and Somalia. So has Rwanda. Likewise, millions of mosquito nets that Rwanda imported from the United States arrived in plastic packaging for which the chemical content was not disclosed—even after a Rwandan recycler inquired. That rendered them unrecyclable.For global companies like Nestlé, which sells food products in 187 countries, that means complying with 187 different sets of national regulations on plastic packaging.These are but three examples of hundreds of contradictory policies, inconsistencies, and lack of transparency that are embedded in the global plastics trade in ways that make it hard to gain control of the growing accumulation of plastic waste. Not only do definitions differ from country to country, there also are no global rules for such practices as determining which plastic materials can be mixed together in one product; that creates a potential nightmare for recycling. Internationally accepted methods for how to measure plastic waste spilling into the environment don’t exist. Without uniform standards or specific data, the job of fixing it all becomes essentially impossible. Now, help may be on the way. Support is growing for a global treaty to address plastic waste. At least 100 nations have already expressed support for a plastic treaty, and those involved in preliminary talks are optimistic that one could be approved on a pace that could make a difference, much as the 1987 landmark Montreal protocol prevented depletion of the stratospheric ozone.“Fundamentally, governments will not be able to do what they are supposed to do if they can’t count on an international partnership and international framework. It is not going to work,” says Hugo-Maria Schally, head of the multilateral environmental cooperation unit at the European Commission. “It is a concrete problem that asks for a concrete solution and a global agreement will provide that.”Schally’s message to industry is direct: “You can work with public policy (to make) plastic sustainable and that means you can be part of the solution, or you can become defensive and then you’re part of the problem.”A surge in wasteThe primary argument against trying to push a treaty through the United Nations and its 193 member states is that negotiations can drag on for a decade or more, and on the issue of plastics, there is little time to spare. New plastics waste is created yearly at a rate of 303 million tons (275 million metric tons). To date, 75 percent of all plastic ever produced has become waste, and production is expected to triple by 2050. New research this year suggests that the accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans is also expected to triple by 2040 to an average of 32 million tons (29 million metric tons) a year. With numbers like those, it’s no surprise that none of the nations that are the most significant contributors of plastic waste to the environment have been able to gain control of their mismanaged waste. And though global treaties take time, no environmental issue of this magnitude has been significantly addressed without one. Plastic pollution has been on the agenda at the United Nations since 2012. In 2019, when the UN Environmental Assembly last gathered face-to-face in Nairobi, talks about plastic waste were stymied primarily by the United States, which opposed a binding treaty. The only agreement that emerged was an agreement to keep talking.Over the last decade, the ground has shifted dramatically. “In 2015, no country had expressed an interest in pursuing a global treaty,” says Erik Lindebjerg, who is spearheading the World Wildlife Fund’s plastic waste campaign from Oslo. He helped oversee publication of The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, a report prepared in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which details how a treaty could solve an assortment of business problems. “In one sense, we’ve reached a saturation point, so you suddenly see impacts everywhere.”Industry also has reversed its opposition.  “We have evolved our position as the situation has evolved,” says Stewart Harris, an American Chemistry Council executive speaking on behalf of the International Council of Chemical Associations, a global chemistry association of which the ACC is a member. “We were concerned with the binding element of a global [treaty]. We felt we weren’t ready for that yet,” he says. “And now that’s changed. Now we do believe a global instrument is needed to help us achieve the elimination of waste in the environment and help companies achieve voluntary commitments.”What’s on the negotiating table Preliminary talks are already underway, all aimed at the next in-person meeting in Nairobi, where hopes are high that agreement can be reached to move ahead with treaty discussions.Scandanavian nations traditionally have run talks about plastic waste, with Norway, as current president of the UN Environmental Assembly, taking the lead. But other groups of nations have been meeting and pushed the conversation forward. Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, and Vietnam have held several sessions, with another planned for September. Small island nations, inundated by drifting plastic waste and with much to lose in climate change, have conducted preliminary talks of their own.The overarching goal of early talks has been to set a specific date to eliminate plastic from spilling into the oceans. The rest of the agenda is centered around four topics: a  harmonized set of definitions and standards that would eliminate inconsistencies such as the definition of a plastic bag; coordination of national targets and plans; agreement on reporting standards and methodologies; and creation of a fund to build waste management facilities where they are most needed in less developed countries.Christina Dixon, an oceans specialist at the Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental nonprofit based in London and Washington, says that the existing methods for managing the plastic marketplace are not sustainable. “We need to find a way to look at plastic with a global lens. We have a material that is polluting throughout its lifecycle and across borders. No one country is able to address the challenge by itself.”The power of the public—and of dialoguePublic opinion is also prompting change. Plastic pollution ranks as one of the three most-pressing environmental concerns, along with climate change and water pollution, according to a 2019 survey included in the Business Case for a UN Treaty report. Young activists who took to the streets in 2019 to protest lack of action on climate have been paying attention to plastic waste. Multiple industry studies show that Gen Z and Millennials are pushing makers of consumer products towards sustainability practices.Then, there’s a simple matter that the opposing sides are now talking to each other. In 2019, Dave Ford, a former advertising executive whose company had been hosting corporate leaders on expensive trips to Antarctica, Africa and the like, decided to host a four-day cruise and talkathon from Bermuda to the Sargasso Sea for 165 people working on plastic waste. The passenger roster ranged from executives at Dow Chemical to Greenpeace. In a move designed to get maximum publicity, a Greenpeace activist roomed with a Nestlé executive in what became known on board as the Sleeping With The Enemy moment. The ploy worked. Many members from the cruise are still talking to each other and tensions that had been building eased. Ford has since founded the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network and recruited additional activists and industry executives to join the conversation.“What we’re trying to do is get all the parties historically fighting each other to understand where everybody sits,” Ford says. “In a lot of cases, they might be closer than they think.”

Pivet's plastic phone case could biodegrade within 2 years

Most plastics take hundreds of years to decompose. This one, from case maker Pivet, harnesses the power of hungry microbes.Michael Pratt doesn’t want to change the way you take out the trash. Instead, he wants to change what happens to trash when it ends up in a landfill or the middle of the ocean.  Pratt is the founder of Pivet, a new company that makes smartphone cases. You might think it’s a crowded field, however, not only is Pivet a Black-owned business in an industry that has shown little progress with diversity, but its plastic cases are also unusual. Unlike most plastics that take hundreds of years to decompose, Pivet’s cases can biodegrade in around two years, according to the company. The plastic in Pivet’s cases is embedded with a proprietary material called Toto-Toa. This material is comprised of natural and non-toxic ingredients, but Pivet wouldn’t specify those ingredients as it’s currently seeking intellectual property protection. This mixture purportedly speeds up the natural biodegradation process by attracting micro-organisms when the case enters microbe-rich environments, like landfills or oceans. (No, it won’t start to biodegrade when you’re still using the case.) These microbes colonize on the surface of the case and then break the plastic down into its raw components.“We don’t think that plastic is bad in general,” says Pratt. “We think what happens to plastic in its end of life is where the problem is. When we’re done with it, we have no idea how to properly dispose of it without harming the planet.”New MaterialsIn the US, more than 90 percent of plastic is never recycled. So instead of simply making a recyclable phone case or one made with recycled materials, Pratt and his team developed the Toto-Toa material to avoid placing the burden of recycling on the consumer. Buyers can throw out the case as normal when it’s no longer needed without worrying about harming the environment to the same degree.