SuppliedA microplastic fragment found in a shellfish in Bay of Plenty. The fragment came from a single-use plastic.Microplastics have been found in extremely high levels across the Bay of Plenty moana. Tiny plastic particles have been found in shellfish and sediment. University of Waikato master of science student Anita Lewis found the particles in every sediment sample she took from across the region, between Tauranga Harbour and the eastern coast to Maketu and Ōpōtiki. There was not one area sampled where microplastics were not present and particularly high levels were found in shellfish, including tuatua, cockles and wedge shells. These findings come a week after the Government announced plans to ban some single-use plastic products, such as plates, bags, cotton buds and drinking straws by 2025. READ MORE:* Plummeting crayfish numbers in small marine reserves leads to call for more protection in Hauraki Gulf* Kiwis possibly breathing in tiny pieces of plastic after particles found in air* Plastic in our drinking water could spread disease, World Health Organisation warns* We eat a ‘credit card’ size worth of plastic each weekRNZBottle-fed babies are ingesting millions of tiny microplastic particles a day. Lewis said her research findings were alarming, illustrating the impact plastics were having not only on our marine environment, but potentially human health. “Kaimoana gathering in New Zealand is common practice and this research is showing microplastics and nano-plastics are now bioaccumulating in our food chain.” The highest number of plastics in Macomona (wedge shells) was about 1.1 particles per gram of sample tissue in the Tuapiro Point and Maketu Estuary. Elevated levels were also found in Waipapa Bay cockles with 1.2 particles per gram of tissue and Matakana Island tuatua with 2.3 particles per gram of tissue.SuppliedUniversity of Waikato Master of science student Anita Lewis’s work is one of only three pieces of research undertaken on microplastics in New Zealand. “That’s a lot if you take it per gram of tissue.” She said banning single use plastics was an important step, but more advancements were needed particularly for fibre plastics. “What we wear is synthetic and it’s actually made of plastic, so those fibres shed in our washing machines and then they go to the waste water treatment plant, which only catch macro plastics. “Microplastics slip through the membranes… and due to abrasion exit in the treated water as more nano plastics than microplastics.SuppliedA microplastic fibre. In her sediment study she found that fragments, such as plastic bags and earbuds – that the Government wants to ban – only makes up 23 per cent of plastic pollution whereas fibres make up 75 per cent. Tuatua fibres made up 52 per cent of plastic pollution and in cockles 50 per cent. “Fibres are really the biggest problem. “There needs to be some serious changes in water treatment plants and washing machines.” Lewis’ findings will be presented to the New Zealand Marine Society Conference at Waikato University’s Tauranga campus on Thursday.
Author Archives: David Evans
Stuart Landesberg: Plastic is killing our planet. Will the consumer packaged goods industry step up?
The companies that make packaged household goods, from dish soap to shampoo, have been complicit in creating a society addicted to single-use plastic. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
[Source Photo: allanswart/iStock]
By STUART LANDESBERG 4 minute
EU plastic rules worry manufacturers, environmentalists demand more
By Catarina Demony3 Min ReadLISBON (Reuters) – New measures to reduce plastic waste in the European Union have drawn fire from environmental campaigners who say they do not go far enough, while manufacturers worry the rules could lead to different standards being adopted across the bloc.Slideshow ( 2 images )In an effort to reduce pollution, the EU banned a range of single-use plastic products on Saturday, including straws, plates, cutlery and cotton bud sticks and said drinking bottles must contain more recycled plastic.The directive, which also requires member states to reduce consumption of certain single-use items, came into force in 2019 but member states had until July 3 to turn it into national law.“Single-use plastic is the symbol of today’s throw-away society, and phasing them out constitutes an obvious first step to fight plastic pollution,” said Frédérique Mongodin, from NGO Seas At Risk. “Yet we cannot rely on the sole political will of national governments.”Only eight member states have informed the European Commission of measures put in place to transpose the directive, according to the Commission’s database. Most have adopted “bare minimum requirements” or are missing some of the required measures, Zero Waste Europe said.In others, such as Poland and Bulgaria, the transposition of the directive into national law is still in progress or has not started.Plastics manufacturers have also criticized the new rules, which they say risk fragmenting the market if some countries stick to the EU requirement for 30% of recycled content in plastic drinking bottles by 2030 and others go for more ambitious targets.The result could be that some manufacturers might have to produce different products for different countries, which would not be economically viable, one industry source said.In an industry statement, Plastics Europe, which represents manufacturers, called on the Commission to ensure the guidelines are not open for interpretation so member states do not end up adopting different rules.A Commission spokesperson said it has been “monitoring the transposition process and will provide member states with guidance and assistance where needed.”Reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Additional reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; Editing by James Mackenzie and Kate Abnett
A hospital ward made from trash highlights Arthur Huang's mission to revolutionize recycling
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Taiwanese architect and engineer Arthur Huang wanted to do something to help. As the construction industry across the world ground to a halt, putting many of his projects on hold, Huang turned his attention to solving the urgent need for medical supplies and hospital space.Based in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, Huang is the co-founder and CEO of Miniwiz — a company that takes different types of waste and transforms them into over 1,200 materials that can be used for construction, interiors and consumer products. With the pandemic affecting shipments of conventional materials, Huang found an alternative that’s never in short supply. “We have been building medical parts, medical components and a medical modular ward system all out of local trash,” he says.The result is the Modular Adaptable Convertible (MAC) ward — the world’s first hospital ward built out of recycled materials, according to Miniwiz. It was designed by the company in partnership with the Fu Jen Catholic University Hospital in Taipei, and may begin to admit patients as early as June. The walls of the MAC ward are lined with panels made from 90% recycled aluminum, and insulation made from recycled polyester. Cupboard handles and clothes hooks are made from recycled medical waste such as PPE. A portable version can be built from scratch in 24 hours, Huang says, allowing it to be transported to places with high medical need. “I think that [the] pandemic forces us to become very innovative to come up with the solutions to adapt to the current situation,” he says.One man’s mission to make treasure out of trash
5 things to know about the EU single-use plastics ban
The plastic food containers, coffee cups and cutlery that came with all that take-away during lockdown are now off the table as the EU gives single-use plastics the bin.
The great packaging purge has begun. Ten single-use plastic (SUP) products that for years have blighted Europe’s beaches will be largely banned from July 3 as the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive of 2019 comes into force. Plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks and polystyrene drink and food vessels cannot be sold as of Saturday. Also getting binned are oxo-degradable plastic bags that are marketed as biodegradable but which, according to the EU, break down into microplastics that long remain in the environment. These disposable plastics make up around 70% of marine litter in Europe. Cafes and restaurants will now be forced to stock cups and straws made of bamboo, cellulose or other biodegradable materials. But not all has been outlawed as part of the plastics reforms. SUP bags, bottles, beverage and food containers for immediate consumption, packets and wrappers, tobacco filters, sanitary items and wet wipes will still instead be restricted, while producers will have to pay for the clean-up and institute awareness campaigns about their environmental impact. The end goal is an EU circular economy model via which any remaining disposable plastics will be reusable or recyclable by 2030. Here are five things to know about the EU’s plans for a plastic-free future. 1. How the new plastic regime will be implemented EU Member States have drawn up their own laws to implement the Single Use Plastics Directive. Some have even decided to add to the list of banned SUPs. As part of France’s ‘law on the circular economy and the fight against waste’ adopted in February 2020, most fruit and vegetable packaging will also be banned, as will plastic tea bags, confetti and plastic toys offered as part of kids menus. Europe’s battle with marine plastic pollution: Some of the 22 kilograms (48.5 pounds) of plastic found in its belly of a sperm whale found dead off Sardinia in 2019 In Germany, measures approved in Novemberadded EPS polystyrene food containers to the SUPs included in the directive. In Luxembourg, SUPs have been banned from being sold at festivals from July 3. In Greece, meanwhile, they’ve been outlawed from use in government agencies since February, the first ban of its kind. Other countries like Italy and Belgium are also introducing a plastics tax or levy to disincentivize the use of plastics. It might all appear haphazard, but in line with the European Green Deal, all EU member states must ultimately fall in line with a waste and pollution-free circular economy model in which any SUPs are sustainably re-used and recycled by the end of the decade. 2. Plastic drink bottles still allowed While the plastics directive deals with a lot of throwaway plastic items that end up on Europe’s coasts, it does not ban some of the 1.3 billion plastic drink bottles that are sold daily around the world. Made of PET, these fossil-based plastic containers are, however, one of the few that can be recycled and used to make new bottles, packaging or fibers. The problem remains that only 65% of PET bottles in Europe are collected for recycling, and the rest will take hundreds of years to decompose. The SUP directive sets a collection target of 90% recycling for PET bottles by 2029 (with an interim target of 77% by 2025). These bottles should also contain at least 25% recycled, as opposed to virgin, plastic by 2025 And manufacturers who sell PET bottles now also have more stringent accountability as part of the “extended producer responsibility” mandate included in the directive. Based on the “polluter pays” principle, producers will have to cover the cost of waste management clean-up as well as raising awareness about the environment impact of the product and the most sustainable disposal methods. 3. Some alternatives to plastic Natural polymers that have not been chemically modified are exempt from the directive. Any plastics created from modified natural polymers, or fossil or synthetic feedstocks, are effectively banned. The winners here will be a range of new sustainable materials that are not considered chemically modified. These include regenerated cellulose, which is used to create viscose, lyocell and cellulosic films. The most abundant biopolymer on our planet, regenerated cellulose is used to create a strong, transparent and completely biodegradable film or sheet that is largely impermeable to oils and greases. A long-used food packaging material before the introduction of oil-based plastics, cellulose is back. Meanwhile, biodegradable cotton bud sticks will typically be made from compostable bamboo, meaning they can be disposed of in the normal organic waste. All that SUP cutlery is also likely to be replaced by completely compostable, 100% biodegradable bamboo that is cheap and fast to grow. That said, when implementing the SUP directive, countries like France and Belgiun have banned the labeling of products as “biodegradable” because it can be a form of greenwashing that encourages packaging consumption. 4. Cigarette butts also on the list Article 8 of the EU Single Use Plastics Directive specifies that tobacco producers have to foot the bill for the clean-up of cigarette butts containing plastic filters. Made with cellulose acetate, a polymer that breaks down in the environment very slowly, some 4.5 trillion butts are discarded annually, making it the most littered item on the planet. But the EU’s SUP directive is forcing producers to label the butts and packets to create awareness as opposed to an outright ban. Activists want plastic butts to simply be outlawed — which won’t happen until 2027 when the list of banned SUPs will be updated. In September 2020, anti-plastic campaigners collected 142,000 cigarette butts from streets across the Netherlands. “Communication campaigns do not solve the issue,” said Karl Beerenfenger from By the Ocean we Unite, which co-organized the clean-up. “We must change the product itself. Cigarette filters only serve as a marketing tool to sell more cigarettes. We want to get rid of the plastic cigarette filter altogether.” But so far there are no plans to ban butts. Sustainable filters could be an interim solution, with the company Green Butts pitching its water dispersable filter to the EU Commission on social media, claiming its product biodegrades in days and is produced with sustainable natural fibers. 5. ‘Pandemic plastics’ yet to be included The SUPs ban exempts medical-related plastics, including the masks and gloves that have become so widespread during the pandemic. In addition to the many types of packaging made from long-lasting SUPs for these pandemic response products, these materials have ended up as waste on both land and in marine environments, with potentially harmful impacts on ecosystems, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). “Imports of face masks into the EU more than doubled compared with business as usual before the pandemic,” said the EEA. The increase happened while EU production was also increasing. With around 170,000 additional tons of these plastic-based face masks introduced into the EU during the first six months of the pandemic, calls are growing to find alternatives. But so far, pandemic plastics are not addressed by the new SUP rules: “Notably, the directive on single-use plastics does not even apply to single-use plastic products used in the health sectors, such as single-use gloves, gowns and masks,” said Justine Maillot from Zero Waste Europe in a statement.
Plastic in our oceans may have already changed the planet…forever
The plastic in our oceans may have changed the planet… forever, according to new research.It has reached a tipping point – triggering effects we will not be able to reverse.Recycling schemes are failing to stem the tide. Capping production and banning waste exports is the last chance.Actions that drastically reduce emissions are “the rational policy response,” say an international team.Lead author Professor Matthew MacLeod, of the University of Stockholm, explained: “Plastic is deeply engrained in our society and leaks into the environment everywhere – even in countries with good waste-handling infrastructure.”The study in the journal Science found the pollution threat is getting worse despite better public awareness.Plastic is found everywhere on Earth – from deserts and mountaintops to deep oceans and Arctic snow.As of 2016, estimates of global emissions to the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans ranged from nine to 23 million metric tons a year. The same again is dumped on land.Quantities are expected to almost double by 2025 if business-as-usual scenarios apply.Co author Mine Tekman, a PhD candidate at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven, Germany, said it is also a “political and economic” issue.Current solutions, such as recycling and cleanup technologies, are not enough – and we must tackle the problem at its root.She said: “The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment.“As consumers, we believe when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled.“Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities.“Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”Plastic accumulates when amounts exceed those removed by cleanup initiatives and natural outdoor degradation from sunlight, air and moisture.Co author Prof Hans Peter Arp, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, said: “Weathering of plastic happens because of many different processes, and we have come a long way in understanding them.Accumulation “But weathering is constantly changing the properties of plastic pollution, which opens new doors to more questions.“Degradation is very slow and not effective in stopping accumulation, so exposure to weathered plastic will only increase.”He describes plastic as a “poorly reversible pollutant”, both because of its continuous emissions and environmental persistence.Untouched places – such as the pristine polar regions – are most vulnerable.Co author Prof Annika Jahnke, of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, explained: “In remote environments, plastic debris cannot be removed by cleanups.“Weathering of large plastic items will inevitably result in the generation of large numbers of micro and nanoplastic particles as well as leaching of chemicals intentionally added and other chemicals that break off the plastic polymer backbone.“So, plastic in the environment is a constantly moving target of increasing complexity and mobility. Where it accumulates and what effects it may cause are challenging or maybe even impossible to predict.”On top of the damage it causes by entanglement of animals and toxic effects, there are a range of potential indirect environmental impacts.They include fuelling climate change by disrupting the global carbon pump and biodiversity loss in the ocean where plastic acts as an additional stressor to overfishing.Others are ongoing habitat destruction from changes in water temperatures, reduction in nutrients and more chemical exposure.The researchers hope taking all the findings together will provide “compelling motivation” for tailored actions.Added Prof MacLeod: “Right now, we are loading up the environment with increasing amounts of poorly reversible plastic pollution.“So far, we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences, but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it.“The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous.“The rational thing to do is to act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic to the environment.”1.3billion tonnes Last year a British study published in the same journal found 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic is destined for our environment – both on land and in the ocean – by 2040.The finding by the University of Leeds was based on a global model of the scale of the plastic problem over the next two decades.Another recent study by the University of Plymouth found a staggering 700 different species are threatened by plastic pollution – many of which are currently endangered.Earlier this year Greenpeace urged the UK government to ban the export of plastic waste to all countries, invest in a domestic recycling industry and set a binding target for plastic reduction.It also revealed how plastic waste from seven major UK supermarkets was being burned and dumped in Turkey rather than being recycled. It wants ministers to ban all exports of plastic by 2025.Related: Watch: Greta Thunberg has again slammed world leaders about climate change actionSince you are hereSince you are here, we wanted to ask for your help.Journalism in Britain is under threat. The government is becoming increasingly authoritarian and our media is run by a handful of billionaires, most of whom reside overseas and all of them have strong political allegiances and financial motivations.Our mission is to hold the powerful to account. It is vital that free media is allowed to exist to expose hypocrisy, corruption, wrongdoing and abuse of power. But we can’t do it without you.If you can afford to contribute a small donation to the site it will help us to continue our work in the best interests of the public. We only ask you to donate what you can afford, with an option to cancel your subscription at any point.To donate or subscribe to The London Economic, click here.The TLE shop is also now open, with all profits going to supporting our work.The shop can be found here.You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER .
Citizen Science for a World Without Waste — Upstream | Sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution
Happy #PlasticFreeJuly! One of the most powerful ways for people to engage in the Break Free From Plastic movement is the global brand audit project. In this episode, we talk with Global Brand Audit Coordinator Sybil Bullock and hear from leaders around the world about how this citizen science initiative is helping to catalyze change by identifying the companies most responsible for plastic pollution. Also featuring: Laura Hernandez of Gwinnett Recycles, Nirere Sadrach of End Plastic Pollution, Mark Penalver of Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS), Inc., Jake with the Climate Reality Project, and Thara and Nina of ECOTON & River Warriors. Resources:
ExxonMobil allegedly ran covert lobbying campaign to delay action on plastic pollution, Greenpeace video shows
Just 24 hours after Greenpeace published explosive video of senior ExxonMobil executives suggesting they had worked to undermine Joe Biden’s climate policies, further footage appears to show the oil firm also lobbied against meaningful action on plastic waste.In the clip, Exxon’s senior lobbyist, Keith McCoy, admitted the company – the world’s largest producer of single-use plastics – had used the same tactics it had previously deployed to derail policies designed to tackle the climate crisis, in an effort to head off “comprehensive regulations” on plastic in the US.In a conversation with Greenpeace reporters posing as recruitment consultants, Mr McCoy explained the company’s thinking on potential regulation of plastics. “You want to get smart on it right, because you know it’s coming,” he said.“It’s just like on climate change, right. So when climate change came, well it’s here, but well when it started, you started to have conversations to say, ‘well you can’t completely change the electric grid from coal and gas into wind, and here’s why’.“It’s the same conversation: ‘you can’t ban plastics because here’s why’, or ‘you can’t recycle you know, legislate 100 per cent recycling because here’s why’.”During the conversations, Mr McCoy also appeared to admit that Exxon produced products containing highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, also known as forever chemicals.These chemicals are extremely long-lasting, never breaking down in the environment and building up in people’s bodies where small doses have been linked to cancer, immune system damage and other diseases.Exxon had previously denied manufacturing PFAS, Greenpeace said, but the undercover footage shows Mr McCoy admitting the company manufactures products containing PFAS.Asked about why use of PFAS could be damaging to the Exxon Mobil brand, Mr McCoy said: “We think if word got out that ExxonMobil manufactured those chemicals, that ExxonMobil uses those chemicals, it’s a talking point you know. It becomes the ExxonMobil chemical and that is just going to hurt the effort.”He said if members of Congress “start talking about how this is an ExxonMobil chemical and ExxonMobil is poisoning our waterways, the debate is pretty much over.”Greenpeace plastic campaigner Nina Schrank told The Independent: “Whether it’s climate or plastic, Exxon keeps talking out of both sides of their mouth. Their chief executive claimed they share society’s concerns about plastic waste, yet one of their top lobbyists says they’re deploying the same tactics they’re using on climate to delay action on plastic.“Meanwhile, Exxon continues to be the world’s largest producer of single-use plastic waste and one of just 20 firms responsible for half of the throwaway plastic waste on the planet. For as long as there’s profit in polluting, Exxon and other plastic giants will carry on polluting.”She added: “That’s why we need governments to step in with targets to cut single-use plastic and turn off the tap on the flood of waste that’s filling up our oceans and harming communities.”In the video released by Greenpeace on Wednesday, Mr McCoy alleged ExxonMobil had joined “shadow groups” to pursue climate change denial.In the video he said: “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not. Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing, there’s nothing illegal about that.“We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.”Following the airing of the first video, Darren Woods, chairman and chief ex of ExxonMobil Corporation, said: “Comments made by the individuals in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues, including climate policy.”An ExxonMobil spokesperson told The Independent: “ExxonMobil does not manufacture PFAS. Any statements to the contrary are simply false.“Products the company manufacturers are disclosed with government authorities and are publicly available.“This is an example of the many misstatements and false characterisations made in the recorded interviews. We condemn the statements. They in no way represent the company’s position on the issue.“Like many manufacturers, we use PFAS compounds in some products. For example, PFAS are found in common products such as wire insulation, circuit boards, and computer components.”
House Passes Landmark Bill to Fund Clean Water and Stop Plastic Pellet Pollution – Surfrider Foundation
This morning the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 3684, the INVEST in America Act, including a package of water bills that authorizes critical funding to address America’s failing wastewater infrastructure that leads to pollution at the beach.
Thanks to the thousands of community members that made their voice heard across the nation (including many of you!), provisions of the package authorize funding to stop harmful pollution from reaching our coastlines and communities. The package advances a suite of Surfrider federal priorities, including setting the groundwork for upgrades to leaking and outdated sewage infrastructure through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), enhancing the climate resilience of our wastewater infrastructure, stopping the discharge of millions of plastic pellets into our waterways, and so much more.
Surfrider and a coalition of organizations across the country commend Congressional House leaders for advancing this legislation; however, we acknowledge that the bill passed narrowly and bipartisan support will be critical to ensure that these components are included in a final bill approved by both the House and Senate. While this was a critical step forward, there is still so much more work to be done before some of these programs are officially funded. Fortunately, clean water and plastic free waters are a win for everyone, including the economy, and Surfrider will continue to fight at the local, state and federal level to ensure our coastal resources are protected.
Highlighted provisions of the recently passed INVEST in America Act include:
Rep. Defazio’s Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act authorizing $8 billion annually over five years to the EPA CWSRF. This program will fund sewage and stormwater infrastructure upgrades that prevent sewage spills at the beach, while providing well-paying jobs to local communities.
Senator Durbin’s S.1507 Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act prohibiting the discharge of plastic pellets and other pre-production plastic materials from facilities and sources that make, use, package, or transport those materials. This provision was introduced by Rep. Lowenthal (the co-author of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act) and the same language is also included in the BFFPPA.
Rep. Lee’s Climate Resilience Provision that requires any CWSRF funded wastewater infrastructure to complete a climate resiliency assessment and be designed and constructed to withstand climate change impacts.
Rep. Moore and Pappa’s Stormwater Provision to authorize an EPA grant program for research and development on stormwater control technologies.
And dozens more, including provisions that advance access to clean drinking water and advanced wastewater in schools and historically disadvantaged communities, provide workforce training and development in the water sector, and set a deadline for establishing PFAS chemical limitations and guidelines.
Surfrider will continue to provide updates on ways to take action as these bills move through Congress. In the meantime, please voice your support for other federal priorities that protect our ocean and coasts on our Take Action page, including passing the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, banning offshore oil drilling, and more!
A binding global agreement to address the life cycle of plastics
Amid the global plastic pollution crisis, a growing number of governments and nongovernmental actors are proposing a new global treaty. In February 2021, at the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)—the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment—many governments spoke in favor of an international agreement to combat plastic pollution. In the past, the international community tended to view the plastics problem from a predominantly ocean-focused and waste-centered perspective. However, plastics are increasingly found in all environmental media, including terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere, as well as human matrices, including lungs and placenta. We therefore argue for a new international legally binding agreement that addresses the entire life cycle of plastics, from extraction of raw materials to legacy plastic pollution. Only by taking this approach can efforts match the magnitude and transboundary nature of this escalating problem and its social, environmental, and economic impacts. Targeting the full life cycle of plastics allows for a more equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of relevant actions across the global value chain.Civil society organizations focusing on biodiversity conservation, health, climate change, and human rights have for years called for a binding global plastics agreement. In 2017, UNEA established the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics, a group of international experts who have discussed options to address plastic pollution at a global level, on the basis that maintaining the status quo was not an option (1). Support for a legally binding global agreement now comes from at least 79 governments, who endorse the Oceans Day Plastic Pollution Declaration from 1 June 2021. Many civil society organizations, as well as a large coalition of major companies, have for years favored a UN treaty on plastic pollution (2). In May 2021, Peru and Rwanda announced they would table a resolution at the upcoming UNEA meeting in February 2022 to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee to begin developing such an agreement.The start of negotiations is overdue. In 2019, 368 million metric tons of newly made (or “virgin”) plastics were produced. Current solutions will not match the expected growth in plastics production and waste generation, even if massively scaled (3). In addition, the further increase in virgin plastics production could, by 2050, consume 10 to 13% of the remaining global carbon budget permissible to keep global warming below a 1.5°C increase from preindustrial levels (4). Plastic pollution poses a considerable, even though not yet fully understood, threat to the environment, species, and habitats, as well as to cultural heritage. Its social impacts include harm to human health, in particular among vulnerable communities, and it comes with substantial economic costs affecting especially regions depending on tourism (5). Addressing these challenges requires a transformative approach that facilitates measures to reduce production of virgin plastic materials and includes equitable steps toward a safe and circular economy for plastics.Safe circularity principlesThe following principles provide guidance for developing criteria for the circularity of plastics:DurabilitySingle-use plastics for which safe and environmentally sound alternatives exist are eliminated; and product design accommodates for safe reusability, repairability, and refillabilityRecyclabilityRecycling enables cost-effective material recovery with minimum energy loss and multiple recycling rounds without downcycling; and minimum threshold for recycled content agreedSafetyUse of substances of concern eliminated; and use of primary microplastics eliminated and secondary releases minimizedTransparencyLabelling schemes guide informed choices; definitions are agreed including for “bioplastics” and “biodegradable plastics”; and information is available on the chemical content of productsA binding treaty must be ambitious to eliminate the impacts of current amounts of plastic pollution and mitigate impacts of the projected increase in production in a business-as-usual scenario (6). An agreement should pursue a vision of zero plastic pollution and no harm to humans and the environment throughout the full life cycle of plastics. To realize this vision, negotiations will need to address the regulatory scope and architecture of the agreement, how it will complement and fill gaps in existing global and regional frameworks, and how the plastics value chain should be transformed, particularly in the “upstream” design and production phases. It is essential to involve all relevant stakeholders in negotiations and get them engaged in implementation efforts, from governments through producers and manufacturers, academia, civil society organizations and consumers, to the informal sector, including waste pickers.The Need for an International AgreementBased on a review of 20 global and 34 regional binding and voluntary instruments, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded that the existing fragmented governance landscape is inadequate for addressing marine plastic pollution (1). Two major gaps underscore the need for a global agreement.First, there is a lack of a comprehensive global governance arrangement that addresses all sources of plastic pollution, in particular land-based. Most existing agreements are restricted to marine litter, especially sea-based sources, even though the majority of sources are located on land. For example, the London Convention and Protocol and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex V prohibits the discharge of garbage from ships into the sea. In addition, a range of nonbinding declarations and action plans aim at reducing marine plastic pollution, e.g., Sustainable Development Goal target 14.1. Regional seas conventions and action plans, regional fisheries management organizations, and other regional instruments focus on coordinated strategies to combat marine litter at sea-basin scale (11). Marine litter is also the focus of several UNEA resolutions as well as G7 and G20 Action Plans.Second, there is no global governance arrangement that addresses the entire life cycle of plastics. Many arrangements cover the waste phase but are weak on the design, production, and use phases (1). The gap in addressing the design and production phase is problematic because only 21% of all plastics currently produced are theoretically recyclable, and a mere 15% are actually recycled in practice (8). The international trade of plastic waste is regulated under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, which enjoys near-universal participation. Only clean, sorted plastic waste effectively destined for recycling can be freely traded, whereas mixed, contaminated, or hazardous plastic waste requires the prior informed consent of the importing country. Only the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants regulates the production phase of plastics, but this includes a limited set of prohibited chemicals that may no longer be used as additives. Most additives are therefore not addressed comprehensively under any international agreement, even though more than 1500 have been identified as chemicals of concern in plastics (9). Likewise, microplastics are addressed through a patchwork of national and regional initiatives instead of global regulations (10, 11).These gaps underscore the need for a legally binding global governance arrangement that would effectively and measurably limit and control plastic pollution (1, 2, 12). The governance failure manifests in various ways, entrenching the entire life cycle of plastics. It starts with the increasing production of virgin nonrenewable materials, and the manufacture of plastic products that are not designed for safe reusability and recyclability and which may be chemically contaminated. At the point of purchase, retailers and consumers are not informed about a product’s chemical content and are faced with inconsistent and vague labeling (e.g., compostable, biodegradable, recyclable), leading to suboptimal end-of-life treatments. During use, the release of additives of concern and microplastics may negatively affect the health of consumers (9). And the most visible outcome is the rapidly increasing amount of macro- and microplastic waste in the environment.Core Goals of a Plastics AgreementAn international agreement that addresses these governance gaps and effectively combats pollution throughout the plastics life cycle and facilitates a sustainability-focused transformation needs to include three core goals (see the figure).Goal 1: Minimize virgin plastics production and consumptionControlling and minimizing plastic pollution first and foremost requires agreement on a progressively decreasing global production allowance for virgin plastics. Transformative scenarios that outline how plastic pollution can be prevented point toward the need to reduce virgin plastics production as a major contribution (6, 8).This goal is modeled after the Montreal Protocol, which sets a maximum level for production of ozone-depleting substances and progressively reduces volumes to safe levels (7). Similarly, the Paris Agreement sets a measurable goal for limiting the increase in the global average temperature, which can only be achieved by rapidly reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The former caps production by targeting inputs and the latter by focusing on outcomes.A cap is a powerful instrument that can be tailored to a specific challenge to incentivize action to reduce production and consumption and to find and use more benign alternatives. However, determining the volumes at which production and consumption should be capped will require robust knowledge of current and safe levels of pollution, environmentally sound and cost-effective alternative materials and processes, and a comprehensive tracking system of all materials, processes, and effectiveness of parallel measures undertaken.An agreed goal to reduce production and consumption of virgin plastic materials would send the clearest signal from governments to producers, consumers, and others along the plastics value chain. It is the key measure needed to reverse worsening trends. It would signal that manufacturers need to enhance their efforts toward sustainability of plastics considerably, that they will need to produce less of it, and that innovation and safety improvements offer substantial new market opportunities. The goal would also prevent GHG emissions by discouraging further investments in expanding plastics production capacities.Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the production and consumption targets should be aligned accordingly: By 2040, the use of virgin plastics should be largely phased out, and most plastic products should be made from recycled content to the extent possible. Exemptions should only be granted for materials like medical supplies for which no safe and nonplastic alternatives exist.Plastic pollution is a quickly growing problem for human health and the environment. Only by focusing on the entire life cycle of plastics can the challenges be addressed.PHOTO: K M ASAD/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGESThe goal could be reached through a “start and strengthen” approach, first targeting the most problematic types of plastic that are difficult or impossible to recycle and for which alternatives can be easily applied. The agreement will need measures for phasing out or ultimately banning products using plastics (virgin or recycled) unnecessarily—i.e., when safe, affordable, and environmentally benign alternatives exist—and foster the development and use of such alternatives. There are many existing national and regional policy approaches on which to build and expand (10). With the Single Use Plastics Directive, the European Union (EU) follows the example of other states, including African and Small Island Developing States, and bans a range of throwaway products. A global plastics agreement should establish international norms to scale up such bans and other appropriate regulations.Demand for virgin plastics can be further reduced by setting a complementary progressively increasing consumption target for use of recycled content in products, which leads to the second core goal.Goal 2: Facilitate safe circularity of plasticsA circularity goal for plastics will incentivize design for recycling, improve recycling rates, and foster the use of recycled content. Safe circularity can be achieved through elimination of hazardous substances. Reuse and refill systems, as well as alternative low-to-no waste delivery systems, also eliminate substantial volumes of plastic pollution and should be prioritized ahead of recycling.Measures to achieve these goals will help transform the value chain of plastics, bring competitive advantages to producers and retailers, create jobs, and provide health benefits to consumers and ecosystems. The agreement must establish binding technical standards for the design and recyclability of plastics. Hazardous additives, such as phthalates and bisphenols, must be phased out to ensure human safety and minimize impacts on wildlife populations (9). Chemical controls required by the agreement should include rules to share information on any potentially harmful additives along the value chain.Circularity will require a fundamental transformation of the plastics value chain, and though incurring costs, it could benefit all actors in the long term (13). In the upstream phases, the agreement must ensure a level playing field for producers and manufacturers through harmonized rules for product safety and sustainability, thus preventing companies from adhering to different standards. In the midstream phases, the agreement should set requirements and a legal basis for information sharing, establishing labeling and certification schemes and detailing harmonized definitions. This will enhance transparency on product contents and sustainability, and it will enable retailers and consumers to make informed choices that will help drive markets toward safe and sustainable products. It will also empower consumer organizations to sue producers and retailers that do not adhere to the strict sustainability and transparency standards.The general population will also benefit from increased product durability (including reuse, repair, and refill) and safety (less substances of concern in products). In the downstream phases, technical standards on plastic waste enshrined in the agreement will lead to benefits for recyclers, particularly low-income workers, from better-quality and higher residual value, leading to increased investment and job opportunities and improved livelihoods, especially for the informal sector. The legal basis for protecting the rights of the informal sector can be set in the agreement. Once hazardous chemicals are removed from the plastics life cycle, there are potentially substantial economic gains for the recycling industry (2, 8, 13). Furthermore, the population will be able to enjoy health benefits, including through reduced disposal of plastic waste in suboptimal conditions such as incineration, particularly open burning.To reach the goal, the agreement must define global criteria for the circularity of plastic products placed on global and domestic markets (see the box ). Such harmonized criteria will assist countries in adopting necessary regulatory, voluntary, and market-based measures (12). Extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes should be one of the mechanisms shifting the financial and physical burden of waste management to plastics producers and incentivizing design for circularity from the onset.Examples for circularity goals include the EU’s strategy for plastics in a circular economy, which aims at all plastics packaging used in the EU to become reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030. The goal of facilitating circularity is closely linked with the global net reduction in consumption of both virgin polymers and chemical additives as per Goal 1. Currently there is a glaring gap between waste management capacities and waste production in many developing countries, but also in developed countries with regards to recycling capacity. Slowing the growth rate of plastic waste, and ultimately reducing total waste, reduces the need to scale waste management to meet the current growing demand. This is a key benefit of fostering transformation of production and consumption patterns, stimulating innovation toward “design for circularity,” and promoting systems for reuse, refill, repair, and recycling.Goal 3: Eliminate plastic pollution in the environmentThis goal aims to safely remove and sustainably dispose of plastics accumulated on land, on waterways, and in oceans. It also aims at preventing those plastics currently in use from ending up in the environment because of their low value at the end of life. Regarding the latter, the agreement should set strict pollution prevention targets, to be implemented at the national and subnational level, and based on analyses of plastic flows.This goal is designed to complement and scale up instruments already used at the national and regional level. Especially for developing countries, the lack of waste management services will require particular attention. Funding through the plastics agreement should be made available to establish and enhance the use of market-based instruments, including EPR schemes, to subsidize waste management and cleanup. For instance, the EU Single Use Plastics Directive applies EPR schemes to tobacco filters and fishing gear to cover the cost of cleaning up litter.Engaging in large-scale cleanup measures is a costly undertaking even if an effective agreement leads to reduced amounts of plastic waste entering the environment. For many nations and cities, it is advantageous to clean up polluted sites, because clogged waterways, drains, and sewers increase the risk of flooding and the spread of diseases. This will also redress reduced tourism revenues from polluted destinations. However, in other areas, there will only be limited economic incentives to clean up. For these areas, additional support measures are required. Such measures could include a fund dedicated to cleanup, requiring contributions from producers, which could fund citizen science audit and cleanup campaigns and repatriate plastics back to producer countries for responsible management.Operational ElementsTo effectively implement the agreement and follow up on its goals, concrete obligations, support measures, institutional arrangements, and mechanisms for strengthening nonstate action and for coordination with existing treaties need to be developed (12).Implementing and tracking progressA set of binding procedural obligations will help ensure that parties implement and stay on track with the agreement’s goals. Countries will still need flexibility in the national pathways; hence, the agreement should include an obligation to develop and implement regularly updated national plastic pollution prevention plans (N4Ps). These must describe how countries endeavor to meet the core goals, based on national circumstances and capacities, and measures. They should contain ambitious and measurable national targets in line with the core goals. The plans must include all relevant measures to be taken by national and subnational governmental actors. They should be well-integrated into existing policies, legislation, and strategies and build on regionally coordinated plans or strategies, where in place. To ensure that the plans help meet the goals, common criteria should be defined for the contents of the plans, such as the setting of targets, determining baselines for various indicators, implementation time frames, and monitoring methodologies used. Moreover, following the model of the Paris Agreement, the agreement should ensure that N4Ps are progressive, reflecting increasing levels of ambition over time.The plans should also address previously identified main sources of leakage. For this, the preparation of national inventories on the production, consumption, trade, and end-of-life treatment is needed to assess leakage points across the value chain and to enable targeted interventions (1). These inventories can also be used for identifying hotspots of accumulation and assessing types of plastics and volumes found there, which can help determine the most cost-effective action.Another procedural obligation concerns regular reporting by parties on implementation and performance in achieving the core goals. Building on experiences in other agreements, reporting should use a format that requires quantitative and qualitative data that are considered meaningful. A secretariat to the convention will need to be established, which should support reporting (12). To ensure that the information provided by governments is comprehensive and to inform future policy-making, a transparent review mechanism for national reports should be included. In addition, countries would need to monitor the presence of plastic pollution in the environment to ensure that the three goals are delivering their intended impacts using harmonized methodologies that are practical, scalable, economically viable, and ecologically representative. Monitoring and assessment should address gaps and create synergies with existing programs at the local, national, and regional level (11).
Core goals of a plastics agreementGRAPHIC: H. BISHOP/SCIENCE
The preparation of a transparent and participatory iterative global review is needed to regularly inform parties of the effectiveness of the agreement. This could be achieved by aggregating data gathered through reporting on performance and monitoring impacts. Lastly, the agreement will also need a transparent compliance mechanism that allows parties to foster mutual implementation of its provisions and create a level playing field. At a minimum, it should help deal with cases of persistent noncompliance, as well as instances in which parties do not comply with their core procedural obligations of submitting regular N4Ps and reporting. More ambitiously, the agreement could explicitly state countries’ right to prohibit imports of plastic products from noncompliant parties, because these pose an unacceptable social, environmental, and economic risk.Supporting mechanismsSupporting mechanisms are needed to give greater effect to other measures. Funding from both domestic budgets and private sources, coupled with international support, is needed to fund the necessary legislation, infrastructure, technology and capacity building.To have an impact, the agreement must include mechanisms to support developing countries in the implementation of measures committed to under the agreement, including for enabling activities, such as reporting and the development of N4Ps. This could include a dedicated funding mechanism, which could be managed by an existing body such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), or be a new fund. Entrusting the GEF would help to avoid proliferation of funding mechanisms and allow for synergies with the Facility’s other focal areas, including chemicals and waste and climate change. The problem with the GEF is that it relies on voluntary contributions. The advantage of establishing a new fund is that it could be based on mandatory contributions using the UN scale of assessment that intends to accommodate a country’s “capacity to pay,” resembling the Multilateral Fund for the Montreal Protocol. Additional voluntary funds could be established, inviting major producers of plastics and plastic products to contribute. Furthermore, a clearing-house mechanism could channel knowledge about existing funds and programs and assist developing countries in accessing them.Funds should be allocated to spur the use of market-based instruments, helping countries to internalize externalities of plastic pollution. Raising funds from plastics producers would align with the “polluter pays” principle and resemble a liability mechanism (14). It is important that the agreement ensures equity by helping countries to place the burden on the industry responsible for plastic pollution rather than the consumer. This can be achieved by encouraging the use of market-based instruments that target upstream measures, such as a levy on domestically produced virgin plastics, both generating funds and disincentivizing the excessive use of plastics. Ideally, these are earmarked levies channeled to fulfill the obligations of the agreement including by supporting research, development, and use of benign alternatives.At the national level, a plastics authority should be designated to ensure the implementation of the agreement. The authority would be responsible for translating the internationally agreed sustainability criteria to the national context.An evolving and inclusive frameworkNot all relevant aspects can be addressed in detail in the agreement itself. A framework for further action will be needed, as well as institutional arrangements to redevelop rules and implementation arrangements. This includes a governing body to convene the contracting parties to adopt decisions, annexes, and protocols where necessary, including technical standards and guidelines on design and production, reuse, recycling, disposal, and retrieval. In addition, subsidiary bodies would be established for areas where scientific and technical support is needed, including defining criteria for the safe circularity of plastics and developing and facilitating use of harmonized methodologies for data collection. A science-policy interface should support the transfer of knowledge between expert communities and policy-makers (15).Lastly, as the agreement is situated in a complex governance landscape, mechanisms would be needed to engage a wide array of societal actors and institutions. Specifically, a stakeholder engagement mechanism to facilitate nonstate and subnational action must support the agreement. This mechanism should include a global commitment platform where nonstate and subnational actors could announce voluntary commitments to be tracked and displayed online, and facilitate the organization of global and regional high-level events, technical dialogues, and other activities. These would allow learning from best-practice examples as well as from failures and to identify opportunities for upscaling ambition and action. A particular challenge will be to include the informal sector in the development and implementation of the agreement—for example, waste pickers as a major component of waste management systems in developing countries. In addition, the agreement would need a coordination mechanism for enhancing cooperation and synergies with existing other multilateral environmental agreements and relevant frameworks.Next StepsThe decision to launch an intergovernmental negotiating committee lies with the UNEA. The next decision-making meeting (UNEA 5.2) is scheduled for February 2022. A preparatory Ministerial Conference is scheduled for 1 to 2 September 2021 on invitation by Germany, Ghana, Ecuador, and Vietnam.It will take several years for a new agreement to be negotiated, enter into force, and begin to have an impact. Hence, it is necessary to continuously develop and strengthen action through existing regional and multilateral institutions. Yet governments need to boldly go beyond existing approaches. Although a new agreement will come with costs, it will unlock sizable environmental, social, and economic benefits (2, 8, 13).References and Notes↵U. N. Environment, “Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics” (United Nations Environment Programme, 2017).↵↵↵↵↵↵↵SYSTEMIQ, Pew Charitable Trusts, “Breaking the plastic wave: A comprehensive assessment of pathways towards stopping ocean plastic pollution” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2020).↵↵↵↵↵↵↵Acknowledgments: The authors thank C. Dixon and T. Gammage (Environmental Investigation Agency), as well as three anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments. The authors declare no competing interests.