Ekō campaigners gathered for a die-in

Ekō campaigners gathered for a die-in at Shaw Centre in Ottawa, Canada, on April 23, 2024 during the fourth round of plastic treaty talks.

(Photo: Ekō/X)

Plastics Summit 'Die-In' Highlights Need to Cut Production

"This week governments have a choice: Stand up to this slash-and-burn approach by agreeing to radically reduce plastic output, or let the world be held to ransom by a dying industry."

As the fourth round of talks for a global plastics treaty kicked off in the Canadian capital on Tuesday, campaigners with the corporate accountability group Ekō staged a die-in at Ottawa's Shaw Centre to demand an ambitious plan to reduce production.

"Plastic pollution has reached the snows of Antarctica, the deepest oceans, even the clouds in the sky—and still fossil fuel corporations are trying to ramp up production," explained Ekō campaign director Vicky Wyatt. "This week governments have a choice: Stand up to this slash-and-burn approach by agreeing to radically reduce plastic output, or let the world be held to ransom by a dying industry. It's very clear to people across the planet which way they need to go."

Demonstrators—some wearing fish masks to highlight how plastic pollution impacts marine biodiversity—gathered in front of a 28-foot banner that used plastic trash bags to spell out: "Plastic is poisoning us. Cut production now."

(Photo: Ben Powless/Survival Media Agency)

Participants in the die-in—which followed the weekend's "March to End the Plastic Era" through the Canadian city—held smaller signs with similar messages, demanding that governments and industry "stop fueling climate chaos."

As Common Dreamsreported last week, new research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California shows that planet-heating pollution from the plastics industry is equivalent to that of about 600 coal-fired power plants, and 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production are released before the plastic compounds are even created.

The protesters also highlighted that more than 180,000 Ekō members have signed a petition urging action on plastic pollution. The petition specifically calls for banning all plastic waste exports from the European Union and fully implementing the Basel Convention within the bloc, while the summit has a global focus and the plan is to have a treaty by the end of this year.

After countries agreed to draft a treaty two years ago, the latest talks in Kenya last year were flooded by fossil fuel and chemical lobbyists and ended with little progress, increasing attention on the Canadian meeting that began Tuesday and is scheduled to run through Monday.

"It's a crucial moment of this process," Andrés Gómez Carrión, chair of the negotiations and an Ecuadorian diplomat in the United Kingdom, toldReuters on Monday. "One of the biggest challenges is to define where the plastics lifecycle starts and define what sustainable production and consumption is."

Petrochemical-producing countries including China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia "have opposed mentioning production limits" while E.U. members, island nations, and Japan aim to "end plastic pollution by 2040," the news agency reported. The United States supports that timeline but "wants countries to set their own plans for doing so" and submit pledges to the United Nations.

"We are facing a global plastics crisis that requires urgent, global action. Reducing plastic production needs to be a core component of the solution," Christy Leavitt, campaign director at Oceana in the United States, said in a statement. "Countries must act now to stop the flood of plastic pollution that is harming our oceans, climate, health, and communities by starting at the source to reduce its production."

"The U.S. should support a strong, legally binding plastics treaty that addresses the full life cycle of this persistent pollutant from extraction and production to use and disposal," Leavitt added. "Now is the time for the United States to show its support to reduce plastic production, eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics, prohibit hazardous chemicals in plastics, and establish mandatory targets for reuse and refill systems. The United States and the world must act before it's too late."

Greenpeace last month installed a 15-foot monument outside the U.S. Capitol to send President Joe Biden a message.

"He can be the president who put an end to the plastic pollution crisis, or he can be the one who let it spiral out of control," Greenpeace oceans director John Hocevar said of Biden. "We're calling on him to stand up to plastic polluters like Exxon and Dow and put us on a greener and healthier path."

The petrochemical industry, Reuters noted, "argues that production caps would lead to higher prices for consumers, and that the treaty should address plastics only after they are made."

Sam Cossar-Gilbert of Friends of the Earth International emphasized the need to resist corporate pressure in a statement Tuesday.

"A people-powered movement and some governments are proposing ambitious steps to address the plastic problem, like regulating the harmful waste trade, single-use bans, and reducing global plastic production," said Cossar-Gilbert. "But multinational corporations will also be lobbying with their false solutions, distractions, and delays. Only by stamping out corporate capture can we deliver a new global treaty to end plastic pollution."

Mageswari Sangaralingam from the green group's Malaysian arm, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, stressed the need for strong waste management policies, given that Global South countries have become dumping grounds for richer nations' discarded plastic.

"Waste colonialism, whether in the form of trade in plastic waste and other hidden plastics, perpetuates social and environmental injustice," said Sangaralingam. "However, ending the plastic waste trade without reducing plastic production will likely trigger more dumping, cause toxic pollution, and contribute to the climate crisis. The global plastics treaty is an opportunity to plug loopholes and address policy gaps to end plastic pollution."

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