Will a global treaty really stop plastic pollution? 4 experts intervene

Plastic dominates planet Earth. This is not hyperbole. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) currently believes that one million plastic bottles are bought every minute and five trillion plastic bags are used every year.

About half of this plastic is single-use, meaning the products are used once or twice before being thrown into a landfill, burned in an incinerator or, less likely, recycled at a facility.

Single-use plastics can harm animals and choke our oceans. Microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic debris – from single-use products like candy wrappers and take-out containers have seeped into every corner of the globe. Worse still, plastic can take centuries to decompose, so it will be with us for a long, long time.

Earlier this month, in Nairobi, Kenya, representatives from more than 170 countries gathered at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), announcing a warrant negotiate a legally binding treaty to end global plastic pollution. The treaty will be finalized in 2024.

The treaty’s mandate even has the unwavering support of some of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, whose products rely heavily on single-use plastic packaging. Coca-Cola, Danone, Colgate, Nestlé, P&G, Pepsi, Unilever and Walmart signed A declaration backing a treaty before the Nairobi meeting has even taken place, giving a potential deal valuable business involvement.

As pressure mounts on businesses to reduce plastic pollution, a global agreement could be our best bet to reduce plastic’s devastating effects on environmental degradation and human health – but only if it’s done right.

“There are fewer and greater threats to human health and well-being than our continued reliance on petrochemicals and our production of plastics,” Jane Pattoncampaign manager on plastics and petrochemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law, says Reverse.

So what is a truly comprehensive and effective treatise on plastic pollution? in fact look like, and force companies to eliminate plastic from their operations?

Reverse spoke to conservationists, scientists and food and drink experts – all of whom are invested in ending plastic production – to answer what they think should be included in the treaty.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Claire Arkin, Head of Global Communications for GAIA: Global Alliance for Alternatives to Incinerators, a global network that supports local environmental justice efforts around the world to end litter pollution. GAIA has been widely involved in discussions around the treaty mandate.

Only 9 percent of plastic has never recycled and plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050 without serious intervention. Plastic is also expected to represent 10-13% of the global carbon budget by 2050.

This treaty must include plastic reduction targets, focusing first and foremost on phasing out non-recyclable plastic. This will not only help to solve the problem of plastic pollution, but also the climate problem, because 99 percent plastic is made from fossil fuels. Plastic reduction strategies should also include tackling the toxic load of plastic by phasing out hazardous additives and fillers from recyclable plastic and establishing a fund for the remediation of toxic pollution associated with plastic.

Take the Montreal Protocol, which has phased out the production of toxic gases that were endangering our ozone layer. The same could be done for plastic in this treatise.

Sebastien Rhein, researcher in environmental economics at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany. Rhein studies solutions single-use plastics.

Companies will likely support the deal. However, scientific research on these commitments reveals the importance of definitions and measurable objectives. In other words, the success of the treaty depends on the details, which we don’t yet know.

The Plastics Agreement negotiations will first decide what should be included in the plastics life cycle. This runs the risk that the agreement will focus more on waste management. Waste management and recycling is really important and global efforts are needed to build the proper infrastructure all over the world. But waste management can only mitigate the effects of plastic consumption, not the cause. To address the cause, we need to move away from the throwaway mentality and find solutions to single-use plastic consumption.

If you ask companies, they might tell you that they are already minimizing their plastic use as they increasingly use recycled materials and other alternatives to plastic made from crude oil. But this is a purely material perspective. Industry in particular needs reusable alternatives. But there are no easy answers to this.

Let’s take the example of the single-use plastic beverage bottle. Many countries, especially in the EU, set up deposit systems for these bottles. The consumer returns the bottle empty and collects the deposit. It is a very good solution to avoid the uncontrolled disposal of these bottles and to increase their recycling. But this does not solve the cause of the single-use problem. Refillable bottles also have ecological disadvantages, such as higher transport requirements. However, these drawbacks can be compensated by appropriate design of such reusable systems, for example if all manufacturers use a shared bottle which is distributed locally in order to minimize transport efforts.

Jane Pattonplastics and petrochemicals campaign manager at the Center for International Environmental Law. Patton also coordinates the Civil Society Actors Working Group on the Plastics Treaty and was present for the mandate discussions in Nairobi.

Recycling will not be enough. There is no way to reduce plastic pollution without reducing production. There is no way to fundamentally address the number of plastics that accumulate in the environment and in landfills and go through incinerators and the tiny amount that is recycled. There is no way to reduce the emissions impacts of these plastics without changing the way we make and use them. Countries and companies are going to have to put strict limits on the number of toxic plastics that can be produced within their borders or by their entities each year.

Currently, plastic is the cheapest and most convenient material to pack. But nothing in the world says that my deodorant has to be contained in a single-use plastic container.

And that’s exactly what companies and countries are going to have to do in light of a new plastics treaty. Oh, we can’t generalize single use anymore? Let’s invent a different material that is refillable, that is to say reusable. Take the example of deodorant. When I buy deodorant, I can get it in a reusable container and I can avoid single-use packaging altogether. Because when I’m done using my roll-on deodorant I return it to the company and they clean it and refill it or they sell the refills and I can just stick it in the stick myself.

Conrad MacKerronfirst vice-president of as you sowan organization that harnesses corporate responsibility and shareholder power to bring about lasting change on environmental health and other issues.

If the final treaty includes restrictions on the production, use or design of plastic – which we hope – it will have an impact on consumer goods companies. Companies are already taking steps to reduce virgin [new] plastic use. We filed 10 shareholder proposals last year asking major brands to reduce total plastic or virgin plastic use and secured agreements with five of them to reduce virgin plastic use – Keurig, Dr. Pepper, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, Target Corp. and Walmart.

The plastic pollution crisis has shown the world in shocking detail that we cannot adequately manage the amount of single-use plastic currently being produced. Around 40% of plastic is disposed of improperly, meaning it is not recycled or sent to landfill, but is burned or escapes into the environment. Until businesses and governments around the world can prove they can reduce and eliminate plastic waste through much more efficient recycling methods, the amount of plastic produced must be reduced. We hope the treaty will require a reduction in plastic use at least in line with the one-third reduction in demand recommended by the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Breaking the plastic wave” report. This is a landmark report that was the first to present a comprehensive plan on how to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040.

Robert Koenen, Chief Revenue Officer at canned water, a company that sells water in paper-based cartons made largely from plant-based materials like tree pulp waste. The company supports a global treaty on plastic pollution.

INVERSE: How did Boxed Water move away from plastic in its packaging? Is its plant-based packaging model really scalable for large food and beverage companies that currently rely much more on plastic?

ROBERT KOENEN: The motivation behind the launch of Boxed Water™ in 2009 was to be the first real alternative to single-use plastic water bottles. Although we are much better than plastic bottles and aluminum cans, the plastic cap and thin cardboard liner were areas for improvement. We’ve always hated buying our caps with petroleum-based plastic, but we’ve never found a good substitute.

It was a wake-up call that we need to push sustainable technology rather than wait for it. We worked closely with our suppliers to find a renewable substance that could be turned into plastic. We have discovered in the paper industry that there is a lot of tree pulp waste. Our suppliers have found an innovative way to make caps and our cardboard liner from tree oil. We can now boast that 92% of our packaging is made from renewable materials, the highest rate in the industry. And yes, it is scalable. Right now, it may be more expensive to use renewable materials until more companies scale up, but consumers, especially younger consumers, are willing to pay a small premium for environmentally friendly options. the environment.

Bryce K. Locke