There was a gathering of 196 countries including Nigeria at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on 12 December 2015 where all the countries in attendance signed an agreement known as “The Paris Agreement” to legally start a combined move to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals on or before 2040.
In combating the various environmental challenges faced by the global world, research has shown over the years that plastic pollution is the most high ranking environmental problem globally and according to the United Nations environment programmes an equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes daily.
Every individual generates an approximation of 4.1kg of plastic waste thereby arriving at 2.4 million tons of plastic wastes alone annually, unfortunately less than 10% of it gets recycled. Plastic, though convenient and affordable, has immeasurable effects on our environment and health. From ocean pollution to food chain contamination, its non-biodegradable nature and chemical leaching have led to severe consequences. How can something be so convenient yet disastrous?
As a result of this problem, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) Secretariat created an initiative called the Global Plastic Treaty. The global plastic treaty is a legal binding document that is anticipated to be introduced, encompassing various options for managing the entire lifespan of plastics. This instrument aims to cover aspects such as the creation of reusable and recyclable products, the exploration of alternatives, and the promotion of increased global cooperation. The focus is on facilitating technology access, capacity building, and scientific collaboration.
Understanding the Global Plastic Crisis
Before delving into the treaty’s significance, it’s crucial to comprehend the gravity of the global plastic crisis. With oceans choked by plastic debris, landfills reaching capacity, and ecosystems under threat, urgent action is imperative. The Global Plastic Treaty serves as a beacon, guiding nations toward a more sustainable approach to plastic use and it was adopted in 2022 by 175 member countries at an annual conference held by the United nation environmental programme. Sustainable design and consumption is at the heart of the Global Plastic Treaty. It encourages a shift in our mindset, urging individuals, businesses, and governments to make choices that prioritize the long-term health of our planet. From eco-friendly packaging to reusable products, the treaty emphasizes the importance of choosing sustainability over convenience.
The initial version was referred to as the “Zero Draft” held between 28 November to 2 December 2022,at Punta del Este, Uruguay. This treaty is a document that captures the perspectives of various countries and serves as a foundation for future discussions. Although certain crucial elements, such as specific timeframes and global objectives, are not currently incorporated, the draft hints at the possibility of governments reaching a consensus on a goal for the ‘prevention, progressive reduction, and elimination of plastic pollution throughout the lifecycle of plastic by 2024.’
The second meeting in this regard took place in Paris, France from 29 May to 2 June 2023 where different options of the implementation were discussed and they include;
I. Control Measures and Voluntary Approaches (Including Annexes, if any):
- Detailing regulatory controls and voluntary initiatives, potentially with supplementary annexes.
II. Phasing Out and/or Reducing the Supply of, Demand for, and Use of Primary Plastic Polymers:
- Implementing measures to gradually decrease the production, demand, and usage of primary plastic polymers.
III. Banning, Phasing Out and/or Reducing the Use of Problematic and Avoidable Plastic Products:
- Enforcing bans or gradual reduction strategies for plastic products identified as problematic or unnecessary.
IV. Banning, Phasing Out and/or Reducing the Production, Consumption, and Use of Chemicals and Polymers of Concern:
- Regulating and reducing the use of chemicals and specific polymers recognized as concerning.
V. Reducing Microplastics:
- Implementing strategies to minimise the presence and impact of microplastics in various environments.
VI. Strengthening Waste Management:
- Enhancing waste management practices to better handle and minimise plastic waste.
VII. Fostering Design for Circularity:
- Encouraging the development of products and packaging with a focus on circular economy principles.
VIII. Encouraging Reduce, Reuse, and Repair of Plastic Products and Packaging:
- Promoting the adoption of practices that prioritise reducing, reusing, and repairing plastic items.
IX. Promoting the Use of Safe, Sustainable Alternatives and Substitutes:
- Encouraging the adoption of environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional plastics.
X. Eliminating the Release and Emission of Plastics to Water, Soil, and Air:
- Implementing measures to prevent the release and dispersion of plastics into water bodies, soil, and the air.
XI. Addressing Existing Plastic Pollution:
- Developing strategies to remediate and manage the environmental impact of existing plastic pollution.
XII. Facilitating a Just Transition, Including an Inclusive Transition of the Informal Waste Sector:
- Ensuring a fair and inclusive transition, especially for those in the informal waste sector, as part of broader changes.
XIII. Protecting Human Health from the Adverse Effects of Plastic Pollution:
- Implementing measures to safeguard human health from the negative consequences of plastic pollution.
Fast forward to 13 – 19 November 2023, 175 countries came together yet again in Kenya, Nairobi to discuss the third round of negotiations as to how to deal with this problem hence arriving at a global treaty to end plastic pollution. This treaty represents a unique and crucial opportunity to address the escalating global crisis of plastic pollution and without an ambitious and equitable agreement featuring legally binding global regulations, projections indicate that plastic pollution could triple by 2040.
Researchers assert that a key strategy in tackling this challenge is the implementation of policies aimed at reducing overall plastic usage, particularly focusing on single-use plastics, which constitute 40% of the total annual plastic output. This approach is deemed essential to curbing the persistent growth of plastic waste on a global scale.
The demand for plastic is anticipated to surge by 375% by 2060 if immediate and effective measures are not put in place urgently. While negotiations for a comprehensive global and legally binding treaty continue at the governmental and industrial levels, certain individuals and organisations, such as the U-Recycle Initiative Africa, are proactively engaging in national voluntary commitments to address the issue.
Point in view, our Executive Director- Oluwaseyi Moejoh- was present at the INC-3, acting as the Youth Representative to the United Nations for the Captain Planet Foundation. At the event, she presented a 5-point Youth Demand for the Global Plastic Treaty, which is paraphrased below:
- Increased youth roles and engagement for the treaty development and implementation
- Urgency in the adoptation and implementation of the treaty, in view of addressing the plastic pollution problem.
- Prioritization of inclusive solutions for underrepresented and marginalized groups and communitites, ensuring that the most affected people are adequately engaged in the development of the treat
- A circular approach to the problem of plastic pollution, addressing its total lifecycle and not just waste management
- Accountability of nations who contribute most to the plastic pollution problem.
A Call to Action
The Global Plastic Treaty is not just a document; it’s a call to action. It signals a paradigm shift, challenging us to rethink our reliance on plastic and envision a world where our actions align with the well-being of the planet. As nations come together to chart this sustainable path forward, the hope is that the treaty becomes a catalyst for positive change, leading us towards a future where the impact of plastic on our environment is minimized, if not eradicated entirely.