A treaty to end the age of plastic

A treaty to end the age of plastic

In March, there was collective cheer when United Nations Member States passed a landmark resolution to end plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Governments have agreed to start work on a legally binding global agreement that addresses the full lifecycle of plastic and will come into force in 2024. The decision has been called ambitious, groundbreaking and historic.

The resolution established an intergovernmental negotiating committee to draft the text of the agreement. Its first meeting will begin on November 28 in Uruguay.

Thinking about the upcoming negotiations for the Plastics Treaty has me oscillating between high hopes and anxiety. I can see how the plastics treaty can finally end the era of disposable plastic. The world has an opportunity to forge an ambitious global plastics treaty – a solution commensurate with the scale of this global crisis.

On the other hand, I have seen how the most promising policies can go awry when big business interests are threatened. Corporations are pouring millions into blocking, delaying and undermining legislative efforts and global agreements. At the same time, big brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé pledge to reduce plastic use, but consistently fail to meet their public pledges.

Around the world, plastic regulations have been enacted, but more needs to be done. Frontline communities are still grappling with plastic pollution in all its forms. Southern countries bear the greatest social and environmental costs of producing sachets, trading waste and burning waste.

In the Philippines – one of the largest recipients of plastic waste worldwide – our communities bear the disproportionate burden of environmental degradation caused by plastic pollution. We are in danger as plastic production remains unchecked and corporations, in cahoots with big oil, continue to overwhelm us with their disposable packaging that harms our health and the climate just to maximize their profits.

This is why it is essential that the Global Plastics Treaty immediately limit and reduce the total production and use of plastic. Reducing the amount of plastic companies make and use is in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels. Ending the reliance of businesses on single-use plastic is an essential step in tackling climate change and protecting communities.

The global plastics treaty we need must end excessive plastic production, must keep oil and gas in the ground, and must integrate refill and reuse systems.

We must ensure not only justice, but also a just transition for affected groups and the most vulnerable stakeholders, such as fenced communities in “sacrifice zones” near plastic production facilities, fishers and workers throughout the plastic supply chain.

For this treaty to result in meaningful change, the voices of affected communities, waste pickers and populations displaced by plastic pollution must be heard. Their experiences and knowledge are invaluable in ensuring that we leave no one behind. More importantly, their authentic and empowered participation in this process is necessary for environmental and climate justice.

Achieving all of these goals will be difficult, but solving the plastic pollution crisis is truly doable and essential to tackling climate change. The reuse revolution is in full swing with scalable solutions from around the world – from reusable cups in convenience stores and refill systems in community stores, to the return of returnable glass bottles in the beverage industry.

Policies such as plastic bans and upstream-focused extended producer responsibility measures set the stage for systemic change at local and national levels. These are what I call pockets of hope and change.

During the treaty negotiations, we must speak louder than the big brands, the big oil companies and the politicians who flatter them. We must ensure that the treaty puts people’s interests, environmental justice and our climate at its centre. The Global Plastics Treaty has the potential to be one of the most important environmental agreements in history – and we need to make sure it doesn’t break its promises.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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