There is a general consensus that the nations of the world must come together if there is any remaining chance to avoid climate disaster. While this may seem impossible and unrealistic, it has happened before. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was ratified by all 198 UN member nations in a shockingly united effort to combat the then-expanding hole in the ozone layer. The treaty is today considered one of the most successful environmental resolutions ever. Now, 35 years later, the world has another promising environmental agreement—a UN treaty to solve the plastic waste crisis.
In the first week of March 2022, the UN Environmental Assembly met in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the problem of plastic waste—9.2 billion metric tons of plastics are estimated to have been produced between 1950 and 2017; seven billion metric tons are now trash; 75% of this waste clogs landfills, our oceans, and forests. Everyone has seen the pictures of sea animals trapped in soda rings, but everything from microplastics to standard grocery bags can harm ecosystems. Additionally, producing plastic—which uses petroleum and a lot of energy—leaves a massive carbon footprint. The burden of waste is not shared equally—wealthy nations consume more plastic, while poorer nations receive plastic waste.
The thousands of virtual and in-person participants at the assembly met to consider a global solution which addresses not only plastic waste but also production. Delegates passed a resolution for an intergovernmental negotiating committee, which will draft and ratify the treaty by 2024. Christina Dixon, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said regarding the resolution, “This resolution finally recognizes that we cannot begin to address plastics in our ocean and on land without intervening at source.”
The treaty also finally recognizes the important role waste pickers—low-income workers who collect plastic from waste dumps in many developing nations—play in the circular economy. While the treaty will not be ready until 2024, environmentalists are encouraging countries to develop their own forward-thinking plan to contribute to a more responsible future and #beatplasticpollution.