Plastic Pollution – Why We Need A Unified International Response

The damages caused by the overproduction of plastics are now reaching every part of the globe. While plastic production continues to increase, the manufacturing process and the large amounts of plastic waste are already affecting our planet’s capacity to provide a habitable environment. Here’s what you need to know about why today’s so-called “plastic age” needs an international response:

  1. The Arctic snow contains microplastic particles. (more…)
  1. The expected amount of plastic flowing in the ocean by 2040 is set to triple. (more…)
  1. The United Nations Environment Assembly is drafting an international treaty to secure a unified international response to the issue. (more…)
  1. There are several things we can do as individuals to be a part of the fight against plastic pollution. (more…)

Background Information: The Problem with Plastic Pollution

It’s snowing plastic in the Arctic

Researchers have discovered that Arctic snow contains microplastic particles. Here are some details of what they found:

  • Samples of snow from the Arctic were tested in the laboratory at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven. According to a report, a surprising amount of more than 10,000 microplastic particles per liter of snow was found in the gathered samples. 
  • According to the scientists, the snow not only contained plastic particles but also the following man-made products:
  • Fragments of rubber tires
  • Varnish
  • Paint
  • Synthetic fibers
  • Though the process by which the microplastics reached the Arctic has yet to be determined, the researchers believe that these microplastic particles are likely transported by the wind.
  • Their research reveals that even in regions considered to be the world’s last “pure” natural ecosystem, human and animal residents alike are probably inhaling microplastics. 

Plastic waste in the ocean is set to triple by 2040

Researchers have found that the amount of plastic waste flowing into the ocean is likely going to triple by the year 2040. This will drastically affect the biodiversity of the ocean as we know it. Here is some of the information on how it can be countered. 

  • Experts estimate that by 2040, approximately 1.3 billion tons of plastic will be deposited on land and in the oceans. This is due to the continuous consumption and production of new plastic globally, rather than recycling and substituting plastic with biodegradable products. 
  • The quantity of plastic anticipated to be deposited in the ocean over the next 20 years might climb from 11 million metric tons to 29 million metric tons if no further action is taken. Researchers also revealed that the current measures used by the government and other industries to combat plastic pollution are insufficient, and will only reduce the quantity of plastic in the ocean by 7% if implemented correctly.
  • However, the project developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, Ltd., a London-based environmental think tank, essentially calls for a wholesale remaking of the global plastics industry by shifting it to a circular economy that reuses and recycles. If the approach to changing the plastic industry succeeded, it could reduce the annual flow of plastic waste into the ocean by 80%.

The infographic below shows the System Change Scenario, which could reduce 80% of plastic pollution by 2040.

breaking plastic wave - international plastic treaty response
Source: © Breaking the Plastic Wave/PEW Charitable Trust)

A unified international response against plastic pollution

A bigger solution to the plastic problem requires both political and social participation from a number of stakeholders. In early 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly created a new global treaty to address plastic pollution. While it’s still being drafted, and won’t become legally binding until 2024, it is still important to take a look at the setup of the treaty. Here’s what you need to know about it:

  • To secure a unified international response to fight global plastic pollution, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), assembled in Nairobi, Kenya, and drafted an international treaty based on the idea of the plastic circular economy.

  • The legally binding instrument to address the complete plastic life cycle and end plastic pollution by 2024 was developed under the new international treaty. This resolution establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which will focus on the completion of the legally binding draft by its agreed deadline in 2024. Here’s an overview of what is planned for the next two years:
    • UNEP, in collaboration with INC, will prepare and determine the projected timeline.
    • By the end of 2022, UNEP will conduct a forum to share the determined practices and global approach.
    • During the next 2 years, INC will continue to report its progress to UNEA.
    • Once finished, UNEP will conduct a conference regarding the result of INC’s draft for the legally binding instrument.
    • UNEP will open the new treaty for signatories of different national governments.
  • The UNEA member states are also encouraged to guarantee that the intended target of eliminating plastic waste discharges by 2030 together is aligned to the new international treaty against plastic pollution, and must be implemented accordingly.

Things we can do to be a part of reducing plastic pollution

Ways to counter plastic pollution are never out of reach and it can start with any of us as individuals. Here are some ways we can contribute to reducing plastic pollution:

  •  Reducing single-use plastics or refusing to use single-use plastic products such as plastic bags, water bottles, straws, utensils, and take-out plastic containers.
  • Buying products like clothing or cookware that is made from non-plastic materials, like cotton, ceramic, or glass.
  • Recycling plastic properly, as it minimizes the quantity of new plastic in circulation.
  • Reusing products; if you have no other option but to buy a plastic bottle or a plastic container at the groceries, you can always reuse it afterward. A plastic bottle may be refilled multiple times, and plastic containers can always be cleaned and reused.

Sources: 

“Plastic crisis needs binding treaty, report says.” BBC News, January 18, 2022

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60026748

“Connecting the Dots: Plastic pollution and the planetary emergency.” EIA International, January 2022

https://eia-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2022-EIA-Report-Connecting-the-Dots-SPREADS.pdf

“Historic day in the campaign to beat plastic pollution: Nations commit to develop a legally binding agreement” UN Environment Programme, March 2, 2022

https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/historic-day-campaign-beat-plastic-pollution-nations-commit-develop

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