The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is meeting at the end of February 2022 (Feb 28 to March 2) to try and hammer out an agreement on the tackling of plastic pollution worldwide. Along with many others, the UNEA themselves have been banging on about plastic pollution for years, and an agreement is long overdue.
As I write this for you, I can't help thinking that there is nothing new in the research that finally seems to have motivated the need for the treaty. While the reports speaks of 'knowledgeable people' being aware of the problem, that seems kind of ridiculous as most of us could have replicated the report findings by using Google.
Estimates vary, but UN figures assert that humanity uses 500 billion plastic bags and 17 million plastic oil barrels annually. Some 13 million metric tonnes of plastic wind up in the oceans every year, and plastic kills 100,000 marine animals annually. Apparently all this plastic is contributing heavily to climate change as well... According to a 2019 report from the Center for International Environmental Law:
“AT CURRENT LEVELS, GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS FROM THE PLASTIC LIFECYCLE THREATEN THE ABILITY OF THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY TO KEEP GLOBAL TEMPERATURE RISE BELOW 1.5°C [2.7°F]. WITH THE PETROCHEMICAL AND PLASTIC INDUSTRIES PLANNING A MASSIVE EXPANSION IN PRODUCTION, THE PROBLEM IS ON TRACK TO GET MUCH WORSE."
Another UN report, released in October 2021, warned that
“PLASTIC PRODUCTION NOW AMOUNTS TO SOME 400 MILLION TONNES PER YEAR. YET ONLY AN ESTIMATED 12 PER CENT OF PLASTICS PRODUCED HAVE BEEN INCINERATED AND ONLY AN ESTIMATED 9 PER CENT HAVE BEEN RECYCLED.
THE REMAINDER HAS EITHER BEEN DISPOSED OF IN LANDFILLS OR RELEASED INTO THE ENVIRONMENT, INCLUDING THE OCEANS. WITHOUT MEANINGFUL ACTION, FLOWS OF PLASTIC WASTE INTO AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS ARE EXPECTED TO NEARLY TRIPLE FROM AROUND 11 MILLION TONNES IN 2016 TO AROUND 29 MILLION TONNES IN 2040."
Discarded plastic, ranging from food containers to fishing gear, is washing up on shores around the globe, getting eaten by marine life, interfering with navigation, and dissolving into microplastic waste that works its way up the food chain and even into the atmosphere where it may be influencing climate change.
More reports: A UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report issued last October cited the urgent need for a waste treaty.
“PLASTICS ARE THE LARGEST, MOST HARMFUL AND MOST PERSISTENT FRACTION OF MARINE LITTER, ACCOUNTING FOR AT LEAST 85 PER CENT OF TOTAL MARINE WASTE
WHILE WE HAVE THE KNOW-HOW [TO DISPOSE OF PLASTICS PROPERLY], WE NEED THE POLITICAL WILL AND URGENT ACTION BY GOVERNMENT TO TACKLE THE MOUNTING CRISIS.”
Now we've all stated the obvious - facts and situation, don't get too depressed when you are told that the UNEP's stated goal is to finalise the treaty language at the next UNEA general session in 2024.
“THIS WOULD MAKE FOR A HIGHLY AMBITIOUS TIMEFRAME, REFLECTING MEMBER STATES’ UNDERSTANDING OF THE URGENCY TO MAKE PROGRESS ON THIS CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGE.”
As depressing as that statement is, it's also useful to know that while the countries at the meeting, the bottlers and other plastic polluters are going to turn this snack into a meal, businesses and NGOs are also taking action on their own plastic production and recycling.
Images: Antoine Giret / Tim Mossholder (Unsplash) | Sea Shepherd Conservation Society