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Plastic waste

A waste picker sorts through plastic bottle waste at the Dandora garbage dump in Nairobi, Kenya on February 26, 2022. (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

175 Nations to Agree on 'Historic' Plastic Pollution Treaty

The treaty will be "an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it," said one official.

Julia Conley

The vast majority of the world's countries agreed Wednesday to forge a legally-binding global treaty restricting plastic pollution, in a move one official said demonstrated "multilateral cooperation at its best."

Negotiators representing 175 nations met over the past week in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss a joint proposal originally presented by Rwandan and Peruvian representatives.

The countries reached an agreement Wednesday to forge a treaty by 2024, with the details of the pact to be decided in upcoming talks.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said the agreement marked an "historic day in the campaign to beat plastic pollution," which was responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution in 2015 than all the world's airplanes combined, according to one study.

"Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic," said Espen Barth Eide, president of the U.N. Environment Assembly and Norway's minister for climate and the environment. "With today's resolution we are officially on track for a cure."

The resolution calls on countries to hammer out a final treaty which could ban single-use plastics. Making up the vast majority of all plastic products in the world, only 9% of single-use plastic is ever recycled while 79% is incinerated.

"This landmark decision sets the stage for an all-inclusive approach to resolve the plastic pollution crisis."

As Common Dreams reported in January, scientists believe at the current rate of plastic pollution buildup the weight of plastics in the world's oceans "could exceed the collective weight of all fish in the ocean."

The production, incineration, and disposal of plastics in landfills all produce greenhouse gas emissions and release toxic compounds.

The agreement reached on Wednesday recognized "the importance of promoting sustainable design of products and materials so that they can be reused, remanufactured, or recycled and therefore retained in the economy for as long as possible along with the resources they are made of, as well as minimizing the generation of waste, which can significantly contribute to sustainable production and consumption of plastics."

"This landmark decision sets the stage for an all-inclusive approach to resolve the plastic pollution crisis," said Von Hernandez, global coordinator for the grassroots movement Break Free From Plastic. "Receiving the recognition that this problem needs to be addressed across the whole plastics value chain is a victory for groups and communities who have been confronting the plastic industry’s transgressions and false narratives for years."

According to Break Free From Plastic, 75% of people polled in a recent global survey believe single-use plastic should be banned.

Negotiators said the final treaty will be modeled on the Paris climate agreement of 2015, demanding that countries set legally-binding targets to change how products are packaged, improve recycling systems, and assist the Global South in addressing plastic pollution.

"Africa is not a major producer of chemicals or plastics,” Tadesse Amera , co-chair of the International Pollutants Elimination Networkin Ethiopia, told the New York Times.

Yet countries including the U.S. export more than one billion pounds of plastic waste to countries all over the world. The U.S.—the second-largest plastic producer in the world after China—has yet to sign onto a 2020 agreement limiting plastic waste exports.

"Some legal obligations arising out of a new international legally binding instrument will require capacity-building and technical and financial assistance in order to be effectively implemented by developing countries and countries with economies in transition," the resolution stated.

The agreement also recognizes microplastics, which build up over time in the world's oceans, drinking water, and rainfall as a driver of pollution.

"This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord," said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. "It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it."

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