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Ending Plastic Pollution: The 2022 UN Deal

On March 2, the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi resolved to ‘end plastic pollution’ 1 in the “most significant deal since the 2015 Paris Climate Accord” 2.

Why the Focus on Plastic Pollution?

Each year, 353 million tons of plastic is produced around the world. Countries like the United States, China, India, and Japan are the greatest contributors to the issue, with close to 287 pounds of plastic being produced per person annually 1. Globally, 4.5% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to plastic production, according to the UNEP 3.

Watch the UN’s Video Showcasing the Historic Moment:

The Resolution: The Basics

Over 150 countries represented in the biennial U.N. Environment Assembly called for a legally binding treaty to curb plastic pollution by 2024 1. How will this work?

Unlike previous movements in the anti-plastic arena, the goal here goes beyond recycling and clean-up efforts. Despite the positive light society has cast on recycling, and the hope associated with recycling plastics – only 9% of plastic ever created has been recycled, according to the UNEP 3. For the first time, plastic pollution is being addressed throughout the entire lifecycle of plastic – from production to pollution.

The resolution draws from previous submissions by Peru and Rwanda, countries that have previously employed strict measures to combat the issue of plastic.

Effects of plastic pollution. Image property of Unsplash / Tim Mossman.

Despite all the hope surrounding this ambitious plan, the path from resolution to treaty will be difficult. In a relatively short period of time, specifics such as reporting standards and financing mechanisms 1, will need to be addressed for the 150 represented countries. Countries with economies rooted in plastic-production will face significant impacts, and have already voiced resistance to the resolution. The United States, India, China, and Japan are infamous for plastic-production, and oil and chemical industries that produce plastic, or companies that produce goods in single-use packaging 1. In negotiations, India had already suggested that implementation of the treaty be on a voluntary basis.

1. Root, T. “U.N. Adopts Historic Resolution Aimed at Ending Plastic Pollution.” Washington Post. 2 March 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/03/02/un-adopts-historic-resolution-aimed-ending-plastic-pollution/.

2. “UN agrees to create world’s first-ever plastics pollution treaty in a blow to big oil” CNN. 2 March 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/02/world/plastics-treaty-environment-climate-un-intl/index.html.

3. Tabuchi, H. “The World is Awash in Plastic. Nations Plan a Treaty to Fix That.” New York Times. 2 March 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/02/climate/global-plastics-recycling-treaty.html.

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