Historic Opportunity to Solve the Plastic Problem

Plastic pollution is everywhere: from the highest mountain to the deepest ocean trench, to Antarctica, in our food, and in our bodies.  

Most of us are aware that plastic pollution is awash in our ocean, killing marine life, clogging waterways, and littering coastlines and beaches. The images of entangled whales, turtles, seabirds, fish, and other wildlife are unforgettable. But the plastics crisis is also an environmental justice and climate change catastrophe. 

The production, use, and disposal of plastic has significant impacts on human rights. As plastics are made of fossil fuels, its production is a growing driver of climate change. Many experts estimate that if plastic production stays on the industry’s current trajectory, by 2050 it will drive nearly half of all growth in oil demand. 

Plastics are harming human health in ways that many of us may not realize. The wide variety of chemicals and fossil fuels used in the production of plastics not only creates air pollution, but also leaches toxins into many water systems. This is a particularly large issue in low-income and other vulnerable communities. Additionally, in a recent study, microplastics were found in every human placenta tested. 

No matter where you live, you’ve likely seen firsthand some of the effects of the plastic crisis. Here are just a few statistics to help bring home how plastic is a planetary threat: 

  • At least 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year. This is equivalent to more than one garbage truck of plastic dumped into the ocean every minute. Without a strong plastics treaty, this could potentially triple by 2040. 
  • Less than 10% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled, despite what plastic production companies would lead you to believe. The rest gets incinerated, buried in landfills, or piles up on land in towns and cities, and downstream from everyone in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. 
  • Plastic production grew from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to over 400 million metric tons last year, and without action now, this number could double by 2040. 
  • A story in ProPublica last year spotlighted some of the ways fossil fuel companies are greenwashing this issue. We cannot recycle our way out of this crisis; the plastics industry will continue to fight to protect their financial interests.  

Opportunity for a positive global change!  

Fortunately, there is much we can do for stronger protective policies as consumers and as advocates, both individually and collectively. Right now, we have a great opportunity to address this crisis together! We can demand that our national leaders wake up and take action. By ensuring there is international agreement for a strong Global Plastics Treaty this year, we can protect not only our blue planet and its life, but also human rights and our own health!  

After many years of relentless advocacy by numerous organizations and millions of people urging global leaders to address the plastic crisis on our planet, the nations of the world finally acted two years ago. In a 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. World Ocean Day contributed significantly by centering plastic pollution prevention as the Action Theme from 2014-2019, aiming to catalyze global awareness and action. Since the initial agreement, international negotiations have made some progress, but many crucial details are still under discussion. Fossil fuel and petrochemical companies are lobbying hard to keep business as usual. Check out this incredible visual for what “business as usual” could mean. 

Since the historic agreement in early 2022, there have been three sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC). There are two more critically important international negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty this year. The next one (INC-4), will be held 23 to 29 of April in Ottawa, Canada. Negotiations take place at each of these sessions, and the more collective pressure we can put on national leaders to fully address the global plastics crisis, the better! Since there is only one negotiation session after Ottawa, the stronger the agreements reached in April, the better the chances are for a strong, robust treaty.  

To make the treaty as strong as possible, we must ensure that the process includes meaningful public participation. For this treaty to truly make an impact, national leaders and negotiators need to listen to youth voices from communities most affected by plastics production and pollution. The treaty negotiators need to involve them as active participants throughout the rest of the negotiation process. The microphone must be passed, and the unique perspectives, expertise, knowledge, innovations, and insights of these communities must be accounted for with this treaty.

Link here to learn more about how you can help make a difference!