Historic treaty on plastic waste

Conservation news


A legally binding treaty on plastic waste has been developed by representatives from 173 different countries in what has been called “a truly historic moment.”

At the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, the decision was made for an agreement to cover plastic from production to disposal, with an agreement to be reached over the next two years. This has been described as the “most important multilateral environmental deal since the Paris climate accord in 20152”.

It is estimated that 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastics produced between 1950 and 2017 is now waste, with roughly 75% in landfills or building up in terrestrial and marine environments.

The president of the UNEA-5 and Norway’s minister for climate and the environment, Espen Barth Eide, said “Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN environment assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best. Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution, we are officially on track for a cure.”

The terms of the agreement have been discussed by UN nations in Nairobi this week and it was decided that it should cover not just waste, but the design and production of plastic too. It also recognised waste pickers in developing nations in a “groundbreaking development”. An intergovernmental negotiating committee have now started drafting and agreeing the treaty with the aim to finish it by 2024.

The resolution has been described by NGOs as a “critical shift in international policy makers approach” to plastic as a marine litter concern.

Plastic production is predicted to quadruple by 2050 and the new treaty will address this. World leaders have been urged to show even more resolve in developing an impactful treaty, and the agreement will be accompanied by financial and technical support, including a scientific body to advise it, and the possibility of a dedicated global fund.

In recent years there has been growing concern about plastic pollution, resulting in more than 60 countries introducing bans and levies on items such as plastic packaging and single-use plastics to try and reduce use, as well as improving waste management.

Plastics continue to be one of the most serious threats facing whales and dolphins in the modern era, with billions of tons entering the ocean since the 1950s. By committing to making small changes and reducing, reusing and recycling the plastics we use, we can all do our part in preventing marine litter from entering our oceans and causing more damage to the marine environment.