Plastic Pollution in Nigeria

LAGOS, NIGERIA - This picture shows plastic waste discharged into drainage canals and lagoons, a major cause of the city's flooding and the spread of waterborne disease, at Obalende in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial hub, on July 29, 2022.

(Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Must Choose—People or Plastic

As the penultimate round of negotiations for the Global Plastics Treaty begin in Ottawa, Canada, the U.S. must back a strong agreement that protects our health, our communities, and the planet.

Plastic pollution has become an omnipresent threat, infiltrating every corner of our planet and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. From endangering human health to exacerbating social injustices, decimating biodiversity, and intensifying the climate crisis at every turn, the urgency to address this crisis cannot be overstated.

In just a few days, world leaders will convene in Ottawa, Canada, for the fourth round of negotiations to develop a Global Plastics Treaty. Mandated as a critical tool in the fight against pollution, the treaty's significance is underscored by the resounding support it receives from the global public.

In a recent Greenpeace International poll spanning 19 countries, an overwhelming 82% of respondents called for reducing plastic production to halt pollution, 75% backed a ban on single-use plastics, and a staggering 90% advocated for a transition to reusable packaging. This groundswell of support reflects not only a commitment to safeguarding our environment but also a deep-seated concern for the health and well-being of our loved ones. With 80% expressing worry about the health impacts of plastic on their families and 84% concerned about its effects on children, the call for action is undeniable. The world is ready for change, and the time to act is now.

We must seize this moment to turn the tide on plastic pollution and safeguard our planet for this and future generations.

Yet, at each of the three previous rounds of negotiations, the plastic industry, together with a small minority of governments, have tried to water down the treaty's ambition, stripping it of its power to deliver the outcomes that science and justice demand. Despite the efforts of at least 143 industry lobbyists working to drop measures to limit production, ban dangerous chemicals, and eliminate single-use plastics, representatives from Pacific Island and Latin American countries held the line.

At this pivotal juncture, everything we need to end the plastic crisis is still on the table. We cannot afford for this meeting to be another failure, where low-ambition countries and industry interests hijack the negotiations and thwart substantive progress. At this penultimate round, the fate of the treaty hangs in the balance, and we must hold decision-makers accountable to deliver solutions that match the scale of the crisis we face.

Plastic recycling, once thought to be the answer to plastic pollution, is now debunked as little more than an industry scam. Less than 9% of plastic produced globally gets recycled, while the industry continues to churn out more plastics annually and is set on tripling plastic production by 2050.

So, at this decisive moment, we must ask ourselves: Is the plastic industry’s profit-driven version of ‘convenience’ worth the sacrifice of our health? Are we willing to mortgage the future of children for the fleeting ease offered by the billions of tons of single-use plastics the industry produces? Is it worth risking our lives for single-use and corporate profits?

The answer is clear; the time for half-measures is over. We must seize this moment to turn the tide on plastic pollution and safeguard our planet for this and future generations. The clock is ticking, and we refuse to be silenced. We refuse to have any more mothers face the prospect of their unborn children being exposed to toxic chemicals in their placenta. We refuse to normalize climate chaos—floods, heatwaves, fires, and storms—driving us out of our homes. We refuse to have to bury any more of our loved ones from cancer and other diseases caused by toxic plastic chemicals.

The Global Plastics Treaty stands as our beacon of hope. But to deliver on its mandate to break free from the deadly cycle of runaway plastic production, it must begin with bold targets: reducing plastic production by at least 75% by 2040; ensuring a just transition away from virgin production and toward a low-carbon, zero-waste economy; eliminating single-use plastics; and prioritizing sustainable livelihoods, empowering workers, and championing Indigenous Peoples' rights. The treaty must also be rooted in a human rights-based approach that not only prioritizes human health and justice but also ensures fair representation for those disproportionately affected by the plastic pollution crisis. Above all, to be truly effective, the Global Plastics Treaty must create binding global rules that apply to all countries rather than a voluntary global agreement where governments can choose whether or not to take action.

Right now, millions of people around the world are demanding solutions to this global crisis. As we stand on the precipice of change, President Joe Biden must choose—people or plastic. If the U.S. continues to support only those measures that have already been adopted in federal law, the treaty will not be successful. We call on Biden to show true leadership and take a stand for a strong Plastics Treaty that protects our health, our communities, and the planet. We call on him to heed the voices of the people and embark on a transformative journey toward a plastic-free future for generations to come.

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