As countries meet this week to work on a global plastics treaty aimed at releasing a blueprint for reducing plastic waste by 80 percent by 2040, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has outlined three key areas of action: reuse, recycling, and reorientation of plastic packaging to alternative materials.
The emerging debate is between nations wanting to limit the production of more plastics and the petrochemical industry favoring recycling as the solution to plastic waste. Many countries have said a goal of the treaty should be “circularity”, or keeping already-produced plastic items in circulation as long as possible.
Environment groups have criticized the focus on waste management, which they see as a concession to the global plastics and petrochemicals industry. “Real solutions to the plastics crisis will require global controls on chemicals in plastics and significant reduction in plastic production,” said Therese Karlsson, science adviser with the International Pollutants Elimination Network.
Under a new group called Global Partners for Plastics Circularity, the industry has put mechanical and chemical recycling at the center of its position.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said that the criticism of recycling being in the report ignored its broader recommendations for overhauling packaging, which focuses on redesign to use less plastic.
Dozens of countries have listed public health as one of their priority concerns in limiting plastics production and waste. The UNEP report identified 13,000 chemicals associated with plastic production, of which more than 3,000 are considered hazardous.
A 55-nation coalition has called for a strong treaty, including restrictions on certain hazardous chemicals, as well as bans on problematic plastics products that are hard to recycle and often end up in nature.
The problem of plastics will be a tough one to face, considering our dependency on it, especially in countries like the Philippines where work has barely begun when it comes to weaning people off plastic usage in our daily lives. Significantly reducing plastic production and usage will require massive political will on part of the government officials who are in a position to do something about the modern day scourge of plastic usage that we have unwittingly become highly dependent on, and the massive pollution it produces that has proven to be bad for our health and the environment.*