Talks kick off on global plastic trash treaty

Talks begin on global plastic waste treaty

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Despite decades of efforts, plastic pollution is only getting worse — a disheartening fact that delegates from nearly 200 countries meeting Monday in Uruguay are determined to make a difference.

Delegates in the seaside town of Punta del Este begin charting a path for the first global treaty to combat plastic pollution.

“We know the world is addicted to plastic,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme, at the start of the talks.

“A plastic crisis is also a climate crisis. Plastics have a huge carbon footprint and a huge chemical footprint,” she said.

Uruguay’s meeting comes after parties at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March agreed to form an intergovernmental committee to negotiate and finalize a legally binding plastics treaty by 2024.

The decision was seen as the biggest environmental progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 to curb global warming.

By some estimates, a garbage truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute. The amount of plastic entering the oceans is predicted to triple by 2040.

At the same time, microplastics have been found in human blood, lung, spleen and kidney tissue, and even in fetal tissue.

Experts believe it is only an international, legally binding agreement that can really begin to stop one of the worst environmental crises on the planet – if there is enough political will.

The meeting in Uruguay will last five days, and is only the first step in the negotiation process. Four more global meetings are planned to take the process forward.

Technical matters, such as how to structure the two-year negotiations, or even what should be included in the treaty, are up for discussion.

“It’s ambitious to end plastic pollution, but it’s entirely doable,” Anderson said.

He said the delegates would work together to “change the entire life cycle of plastics”, from the production of polymers, to the way brands and retailers use plastics, to the waste they generate.

“That means working with the private sector, that means working with environmentalists, that means working with communities, that means strong political leadership,” Anderson said.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), total plastic in the ocean has increased by 50 percent in the last five years. This is despite a 60 percent increase in policies to fight plastic pollution at the country level.

“The global treaty’s unique potential holds all signatories to a high common standard of action,” WWF said in a report on the treaty published this month.

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