Why it’s hard to turn off the plastic waste tap | India News

The discovery of the Great Pacifi Garbage Patch in the late 1990s raised awareness that plastic does not simply disappear after its useful life. Almost a quarter of a century later, in early March this year, a global resolution targeting plastic pollution was finally adopted by 175 countries at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) fifth annual Environmental Assembly.
Described as “the most important multilateral environmental agreement since the Paris Agreement” by UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, the motion aims to create a global treaty to address the entire life cycle of plastics, from fossil fuel demand to plastic waste management. . The objective is to have legally binding mechanisms applicable to all signatories.

mountains of plastic
At the current rate, enough plastic to fill a cargo ship and of the roughly 8.3 billion tonnes produced between 1950 and 2015, 80% went to landfills or rooted themselves in soil, water and food systems. Only 9% of plastics ever created have been recycled.
Although plastic demand, plastic pollution pathways have been quite concentrated. For example, 90% of marine plastic pollution is attributed to just 10 river systems, mostly in Asia. The growing export of plastic waste from developed economies to emerging economies with relatively lax regulations is partly responsible.
While the overall international economic policy framework-
work on plastic pollution has remained limited to broad and fragmented agreements and with few specific targets and actions. The adoption of the Paris Agreement for climate action in 2015 provided much-needed impetus for the pursuit of international agreements on global environmental concerns, including plastic pollution.
Although plastic has been on the agenda of the UNEA since its first session in 2014, demand for a global agreement accelerated after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As the shutdowns have seen industrial use of plastics roughly halve, from 4.6 MT in 2019 to 2.6 MT in 2020, demand for single-use plastics (SUPs) has increased, particularly in the medical sector. It is estimated that up to 9.8 tonnes of plastic waste associated with the pandemic has been created worldwide.
While the world was still absorbing the ramifications of the pandemic, support for a global declaration on plastic pollution continued to grow. The declaration, which had the support of 79 governments by 2021, eventually became a precursor to the global agreement that came a year later.
Upcoming challenges
The adoption of the plastics resolution was widely welcomed, but its implementation will not be easy. The multitude of standards and regulatory measures is an obstacle. Bans and regulations on certain SUPs such as shopping bags have been the most widely used policy instrument, but have had limited impact. There are currently no economy-wide taxes or obligations that structurally reduce the consumption of plastics. This is partly because of the complexity of introducing taxes in an international market, especially so closely linked to global oil and energy markets.
The success of a global plastics agreement would depend to a large extent on the establishment of consistent and similar norms and standards around the world. Its implementation will ultimately depend on the availability of considerable capital to effect structural changes in waste generation and management. Although this financial burden is felt more in low- and middle-income countries, it raises the question of who should take responsibility for the cleanup. savings are responsible for the vast majority of plastic waste accumulated in natural environments. The question of who pays echoes the debate surrounding the link between the developed world’s financial obligations and its historical responsibility in climate change negotiations. Official development assistance targeting plastics represents only 0.55% of the initial annualized needs of more than $27 billion to implement circular economy solutions in developing countries.


The parallels with global action on climate change are not limited to questions of financing. Plastics are estimated to contribute around 4.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, the sector is expected to be responsible for 20% of global oil consumption and 15% of the global carbon budget. As a result, the fate of any future global plastics agreement is inextricably linked to energy and climate policies around the world and progress in global climate negotiations.
While these links could accelerate progressive actions to limit demand for plastics and improve circularity, disruptions to collaborative climate action could very well amplify inertia in the climb towards establishing a consolidated global framework to regulate. the plastics. If the experience of global climate action is any guide, effective structural change may ultimately depend on a sustained appetite by national governments to close the loops and optimize resource and energy efficiency in the plastics management.
By Shreeshan Venkatesh
The author is head of media and policy research at the communications and research organization Climate Trends

Bryce K. Locke