Our planet – our home – is overwhelmed with plastic pollution; it’s everywhere: from the highest mountains to the deepest ocean trenches, in our food, and in our bodies.
Most of us are aware that plastic pollution is awash in our ocean and killing its life. A lot don’t fully understand how much it’s also harming human health. Plastic production, use, and disposal also have significant impacts on human rights. And because plastics are made of fossil fuels, its production is a growing driver of climate change. Estimates are that on the industry’s current trajectory, plastics production will drive nearly half of the growth in oil demand by 2050.
Building on the momentum from an initial victory last year, nations can comprehensively deal with the plastics crisis now.
After many years of advocating by hundreds of organizations and millions of people for national leaders to address the plastics crisis on our planet (including making plastic pollution prevention the major conservation action focus for World Ocean Day for seven years), finally the nations of the world finally took action. In an historic agreement in March 2022, 175 countries at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, adopted a resolution to develop a legally binding global plastics treaty by the end of 2024.
Since that time, negotiations have started. This week in Nairobi they are meeting for a third time, with the intent to draft the treaty by the end of 2024. It is during these meetings that the all-important details are discussed and worked out.
This week is critically important to making sure that the resulting treaty is as strong as possible, and each of us can help. As part of that, we also need to make sure that the process includes meaningful and diverse public participation to help make the treaty as strong as possible!
The goal of the global plastic treaty is to reduce plastic pollution, including through the entire lifecycle of plastic, from its production from fossil fuels with toxic chemical additives, to its disposal. To be effective, the treaty must tackle the issues at its source, from the extraction of fossil fuels that drive plastic production and plastic processing with the toxic chemicals that spew into the air, into the ocean and are smothering our entire blue planet.
Beyond the visible plastics pollution which everyone anywhere can see, the treaty also needs to address the threats that chemicals in plastics pose to our health and environmental rights. People from the communities on the frontlines, where the worst environmental and human rights impacts from plastics are happening, need to be heard.
Wherever you live, you’ve seen some of the effects of the plastic crisis but here are just a few statistics to help bring home how much of a planetary threat it is :
- At least 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year (that is the equivalent of a more than a dump truck full of plastic dumping its load into the ocean every minute) – and without a strong treaty, this could triple by 2040.
- Less than 10% of all plastic waste has been recycled. The rest gets incinerated, buried in landfills or piles up on land, in towns and cities, in rivers and lakes, and in the ocean, which of course is downstream from everyone.
- Plastic production grew from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to over 400 million metric tons last year and without action now it could double in capacity by 2040.
Fossil fuel companies are greenwashing this issue. We cannot recycle our way out of this crisis. The plastics industry will continue to protect their financial interests. A story in Pro Publica earlier this year spotlighted some of the ways.
We need to go to the source and turn off the fossil fuel tap that produces all this plastic. Cleaning up the ocean and the beaches is helpful but will never adequately address this issue if we don’t prevent plastic pollution in the first place.
Since the historic agreement in early 2022, there have been two sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC). This week in Nairobi is the third one (INC-3). At each of these sessions, negotiations take place and the more collective pressure we can put on national leaders to fully address the global plastics crisis, the better! There are two additional INC sessions planned for 2024, and the stronger the agreements reached this week in Nairobi, the better the chances for further improvements in the next sessions.
For this treaty to be truly meaningful and impactful, national leaders and negotiators need to listen to youth voices and people from communities most affected by plastics production and pollution. Their voices must be heard, and their unique perspectives, expertise, knowledge, innovations, and insights must be accounted for with this treaty. The treaty negotiators need to involve them as active participants throughout the rest of the negotiation process.
Your voice matters!
- You can help world leaders follow through on their promises and create one of the most significant environmental agreements in history! Sign this petition (available in 6 languages) to help make sure that governments take strong action now!
- You can multiply your impact by rallying friends and colleagues to help add their voices. Please share this information and the Action Guide with them and amplify on social media, and other ways to spread the word.
- See if your country is a member of this High Ambition Coalition of nations pushing for strong action. If they’re not yet, ask them to join.
- Organizations can sign. If you work at or are associated with an organization or club, please have the organization sign in support of a strong treaty. The more youth-led and youth-focused organizations that sign on, the better!
- Scientists can sign. The scientists’ declaration is an initiative of the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Centre for International Environmental Law, and 15 multidisciplinary scientific experts from around the world. If you are a scientist, please share this with your colleagues.
- Businesses can sign. The Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty is convened by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and WWF. Share this with business leaders in your community.
Together, we can make a real difference! We can make sure that national leaders follow through on their commitments to protect our planet, nature, and people from the harms of plastic pollution.
Some resources for further information and involvement:
- IPEN and StopPoisonPlastic.org
- Break Free From Plastics – global plastics treaty advocacy toolkit
- Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty – press release
- Human Rights Watch: Questions and Answers
- The Story of Stuff and Break Free From Plastic video
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