What are we doing to combat plastic pollution?

The plastic problem continues to grow and this year we want to finalise a Global Treaty to end it. Photo by FreePik. Photo by FreePik.

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What are we doing to combat plastic pollution?

Written by Inés Pereira

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), humanity produces some 460 million tonnes of plastic every year and, if nothing is done, this figure will triple by 2060.

Did you know that two thirds of this plastic quickly becomes waste, much of which ends up polluting the land, sea, and air, increasingly entering the human food chain? So what can we do to combat this problem? Well, that’s where the Global Plastics Treaty comes in! But what does it stand for?

This resolution, which aims to end plastic pollution through a legally binding international instrument, is a historic milestone where Member States are negotiating measures that address the entire life cycle of plastic, including the extraction of raw materials, its production, transport, use and proper disposal for recycling.

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) approved the creation of the first-ever Plastics Treaty to combat plastic pollution, an international agreement to be negotiated before the end of this year.

More recently, in a joint declaration, ministers from the 193 member countries of the 6th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) committed in Nairobi, Kenya, to reach a legally binding international treaty to combat plastic pollution this year.

At the end of April, a further step was taken: progress was made in negotiations on the draft treaty, which is expected to be finalised in November in South Korea.

The impact of plastics around the world: on humanity, ecosystems, and the environment at large

What the research tells us

On average, each person ingests approximately 5 grams of plastic per week, the equivalent of one credit card. This is a warning issued by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) following a study by researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia, entitled “How many microplastics are we ingesting: Estimating the mass of microplastics ingested”. To test this, the researchers exchanged grams of plastic for tangible objects.

But it is not only mankind that faces this problem. According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, “Systematic identification of microplastics in abyssal and hadal sediments from the Kuril Kamchatka Trench”, plastic pollution can act as a trap on the seafloor for all surrounding species.

Thousands of tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans every year, making it difficult to track the entire marine environment, as ocean forces degrade the plastic into tiny fragments called microplastics.

Another study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Mare Plasticum: The Mediterranean”, reveals that around 94% of the plastic circulating in the Mediterranean Sea is the result of uncontrolled management and waste. Egypt (74,000 tonnes/year), Italy (34,000 tonnes/year) and Turkey (24,000 tonnes/year) are the countries that deposit the most plastic in the sea.

However, per person, Montenegro and Albania top the list with 8 kg/year and Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia with 3 kg/year. This waste is largely due to waste tyres (53%) and textiles (33%) which end up in the sea and harm animal life.

“The challenges posed by plastics are largely due to the fact that our production and consumption systems are not environmentally responsible. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have amplified public attention to the plastic waste crisis we are facing,” stresses Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the EEA – European Environment Agency.

While action on how plastics are disposed of in the environment has increased considerably in recent years, there are many other types of impacts that are less well known, such as the contribution to climate change and the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the EEA report “Plastics, the circular economy and Europe′s environment – A priority for action”.

The report analyses the production, consumption and marketing of plastics, as well as their environmental and climate impacts throughout their life cycle, and explores the transition to a circular economy for plastics through three pathways involving policy makers, industry and consumers.

Thus, the EEA report points to three pathways: smarter use of plastics, strengthening the circularity of plastics and the use of renewable raw materials. Together, these pathways lead to an environmentally responsible, socially just, and circular system for plastics.

In addition, a drastic reduction of unnecessary, avoidable, and problematic plastic is crucial to tackling the global pollution crisis, according to a comprehensive analysis published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Accelerating the transition to renewable energy, eliminating subsidies, and adopting circular approaches will help reduce plastic waste to the scale needed, according to the report “From Pollution to Solution: A Global Analysis of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution”.

The report shows that plastic pollution is a growing threat in all ecosystems, from where the pollution originates to the sea. It also reveals that while we have the knowledge, we need the political will and urgent action from governments to tackle this growing crisis.

How can we combat this environmental problem?

Recently, Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), warned that plastic pollution has a devastating effect on ecosystems, the climate, the economy, and our health.

According to Jyoti, “the social and economic costs of plastic pollution range from 300 to 600 billion euros per year, yet plastic production has increased over the last 50 years and is expected to double in the next 20 years if no action is taken.

The Global Plastics Treaty will thus serve to improve global plastic governance, but may be limited because, according to the organisations, efforts to combat plastic pollution remain largely uncoordinated, hampered by a lack of data and focused on aftercare solutions such as clean-ups that consume significant resources that would be better spent on proven policy solutions, waste management and recycling infrastructure.

Reducing plastic pollution depends on everyone: citizens, businesses, and institutions. If, according to the United Nations, it is possible to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040, the effort must be a joint one, working towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Supporting documents:

· “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy”

· “It’s as If They’re Poisoning Us: The Health Impacts of Plastic Recycling In Turkey”

· “Breaking Down High-risk plastic products assessing pollution risk and elimination feasibility of plastic products”

· “Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution”

· “Plastics, the circular economy and Europe′s environment”

· “The Mediterranean: Mare plasticum”

Links:

· https://news.un.org/pt/story/2022/03/1781522

· https://news.un.org/pt/story/2022/07/1794482

· Play It Out | General Assembly of the United Nations

· How Much Microplastics Are We Ingesting?: Estimation of the Mass of Microplastics Ingested. / Plastic ingestion by people could be equating to a credit card a week / Featured News / Newsroom / The University of Newcastle, Australia

· Systematic identification of microplastics in abyssal and hadal sediments of the Kuril Kamchatka trench – ScienceDirect

· More than 200,000 tons of plastic are dumped in the Mediterranean every year – IUCN study | IUCN

· The 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (unep.org)

· Plastic waste: a European strategy to protect the planet, defend our citizens and empower our companies (europa.eu)

· Towards Ending Plastic Pollution (norden.org)

· How Much Microplastics Are We Ingesting?: Estimation of the Mass of Microplastics Ingested. / Plastic ingestion by people could be equating to a credit card a week / Featured News / Newsroom / The University of Newcastle, Australia

complementary activities

Why 50 years of UNEP shows that it is possible to save the planet
Turning the Tides for the Ocean: Five Key Outcomes of the Ocean Conference
A plastics strategy for a circular economy

EASY

What are we doing to combat plastic pollution?

Written by Inés Pereira

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), humanity produces some 460 million tonnes of plastic every year and, if nothing is done, this figure will triple by 2060.

Did you know that two thirds of this plastic quickly becomes waste, much of which ends up polluting the land, sea and air, increasingly entering the human diet? So what can we do to combat this problem? Well, that’s where the Global Plastics Treaty comes in! But what does it stand for?

This resolution, which aims to end plastic pollution worldwide, is a historic milestone where Member States are negotiating measures that address the entire life cycle of plastic, including the extraction of raw materials, its production, transport, use and proper disposal for recycling.

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) approved the creation of the first-ever Plastics Treaty to combat plastic pollution, an international agreement to be negotiated before the end of this year.

More recently, in a joint declaration, ministers from the 193 member countries of the 6th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) committed in Nairobi, Kenya, to reach a legally binding international treaty (i.e. if countries sign it, they will be legally bound to comply with it) to combat plastic pollution this year.

A further step was taken at the end of April: negotiations on the draft treaty advanced and are expected to be finalised in November in South Korea.

The impact of plastics on the world: on humanity, ecosystems, and the environment in general

On average, each person ingests approximately 5 grams of plastic per week, the equivalent of one credit card. This is a warning issued by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) following a study by researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia, entitled “How many microplastics are we ingesting: Estimating the mass of microplastics ingested”. To test this, the researchers exchanged grams of plastic for tangible objects.

But it is not only mankind that has this problem. According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, “Systematic identification of microplastics in abyssal and hadal sediments of the Kuril Kamchatka Trench”, plastic pollution can act as a trap for all surrounding species on the seabed.

Thousands of tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans every year, making it difficult to find throughout the marine environment, as ocean forces degrade the plastic into tiny fragments called microplastics.

Another study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Mare Plasticum: The Mediterranean”, reveals that around 94% of the plastic circulating in the Mediterranean Sea is the result of uncontrolled management and waste. Egypt (74,000 tonnes/year), Italy (34,000 tonnes/year) and Turkey (24,000 tonnes/year) are the countries that deposit the most plastic in the sea.

However, at the top of the list per person are Montenegro and Albania with 8 kg/year and Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia with 3 kg/year. Most of this waste comes from tyre waste (53%) and textile waste (33%), which ends up in the sea and harms animal life.

How can we combat this environmental problem?

Recently, Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), warned that plastic pollution has a devastating effect on ecosystems, the climate, the economy, and our health.

According to Jyoti, “the social and economic costs of plastic pollution range from 300 to 600 billion euros per year, yet plastic production has increased over the last 50 years and is expected to double in the next 20 years if no action is taken.

The Global Plastics Treaty will thus serve to improve global governance of plastics, but may be limited because, according to the organisations, efforts to combat plastic pollution remain largely uncoordinated.

Reducing plastic pollution depends on everyone: citizens, businesses, and institutions. If, according to the United Nations, it is possible to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040, the effort must be a joint one, working towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Why 50 years of UNEP shows that it is possible to save the planet
Turning the Tides for the Ocean: Five Key Outcomes of the Ocean Conference
A plastics strategy for a circular economy

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Reading Comprehension questions. What are we doing to combat plastic pollution?

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What does the Global Plastics Treaty represent?
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