Delegates campaigning to end global plastic pollution agree to draft a treaty

Global negotiators have agreed to draft a treaty to end plastic pollution. This is a first but critical step in tackling one of the most sustainable sources of human waste.

Environmentalists cautiously welcomed the outcome of the five-day UN talks in Paris on plastic pollution, but raised concerns that the oil industry and some governments would water down the eventual deal. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels.

FILE – A child sits in a canoe with empty plastic bottles it has collected to sell for recycling, at the Makoko floating slum in Lagos, Nigeria November 8, 2022. Negotiators from around the world are meeting on Monday, November 29 May, at UNESCO in Paris , 2023, for a second round of talks aiming for a global deal to end plastic pollution by 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, file)

Delegates to the intergovernmental negotiating committee on plastics agreed Friday night to prepare a first draft ahead of their next meeting in Kenya in November, participants said. The committee is tasked with developing the first international, legally binding treaty on plastic pollution on land and at sea.

A coalition of “ambitious” governments led by Norway and Rwanda and environmental groups want to end plastic pollution entirely by 2040 by curbing production and limiting some chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics.

“Projections indicate that the plastic production of a child born today will double by the age of 18, but we know that the consequences of increasing plastic production will be catastrophic for our health, the planet and the climate,” said Dr. Tadesse Amera, who led the International Pollutants Elimination Network delegation to the talks. “The stakes are high, but we’re optimistic given delegates’ growing awareness of the need for global controls.”

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Countries with large petroleum industries such as the US, China and Saudi Arabia are instead focusing on plastics recycling and want country-specific rules rather than blanket limits.

Stew Harris, senior director for global plastics policy at the American Chemistry Council, advocated allowing each government “to use the right tools according to its individual circumstances.” In a statement to The Associated Press at the end of the talks, he said that the circular economy – or reuse of plastics – “is at the forefront of negotiations to tackle pollution and be more sustainable in the production and consumption of plastics”. We agree that this is the best way.”

Humanity produces more than 430 million tons of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that will soon become waste, fill the oceans and often end up in the human food chain, the UN Environment Program said in an April report. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, global production of plastic waste will nearly triple by 2060, with about half going to landfill and less than a fifth being recycled.

FILE – A worker from the ‘Verynile’ initiative carries compressed plastic bottles collected by volunteers and fishermen on the Nile River to build a plastic pyramid ahead of World Cleanup Day in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, September 15, 2022. The pyramid aims to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the Nile. Negotiators from around the world meet at UNESCO in Paris on Monday, May 29, 2023 for a second round of talks aiming for a global deal to end plastic pollution by 2024. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Over 2,000 participants from nearly 200 countries attended this week’s talks, including governments and observers. Garbage collectors and some advocacy groups said they were initially denied access to the talks. Then, debates over procedural rules – including whether decisions would require consensus or just a two-thirds majority – would have lengthened the process, participants said.

Ultimately, however, they agreed to come up with a draft contract by November, setting the stage for a final draft to be produced by the target end of 2024. This week’s talks were the second of five rounds of meetings scheduled to conclude negotiations.

“Time is of the essence and it is clear from this week’s negotiations that oil producing countries and the fossil fuel industry will do everything in their power to weaken the treaty and delay the process,” said Graham Forbes of the Global Plastics Campaign Greenpeace USA. “Although some substantive discussions have taken place, there is still a lot of work ahead of us.”

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