The flow of plastic entering the ocean is expected to double by 2040. To prevent this tsunami of difficult-to-decompose waste, experts have proposed a global treaty which could oblige all nations to reduce how much plastic they produce and emit to the environment.
At a recent meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya, ministers and representatives from 173 countries agreed on the terms for negotiating such a treaty over the next two years.
Is this the turning point for plastic pollution the world needs? And how will it work? We asked Steve Fletcher, a professor of ocean policy and economy at the University of Portsmouth and an advisor to the UN Environment Prograamme on plastic.
What has actually been agreed in Nairobi?
The UNEA is a gathering of all United Nations member states to discuss and adopt policies for tackling global environmental problems. It is the highest environmental decision-making body in the world. On Wednesday March 2 2022, ministers and representatives from 173 countries formally adopted a resolution to start negotiations for a legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution.
Agreeing the mandate and focus of the negotiations is just the start. Before the end of 2024, the substance of the agreement will need to be thrashed out.
Take-away food and drink packaging is dumped in a public site in Thu Thiem New Urban Area in HCMC, May 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh TranGarbage from take-away food and drinks make up 44 percent of plastic waste found at surveyed sites in Vietnam, according to the World Bank.
Plastic waste at both surveyed river and coastal sites across Vietnam came mostly from take-away-related sources.
Take-away related waste accounted for 43.6 percent in number and 35.1 percent in weight of the total plastic waste, followed by fisheries-related waste (32.6 percent in number and 30.6 percent in weight), and household-related waste (21.6 percent in number and 22.8 percent in weight), according to a World Bank report released this week.Total amount of plastic waste by source on surveyed sites in Vietnam2020-2021Take-away related wasteTake-away related wasteFisheries related waseFisheries related waseHousehold related wasteHousehold related wasteAgriculture related-wasteAgriculture related-wasteSanitary and medical related wasteSanitary and medical related wasteTake-away related waste●
After years of largely neglecting the buildup of plastic waste in Earth’s environment, the U.N. Environment Assembly will meet in February and March in the hopes of drafting the first international treaty controlling global plastics pollution.
Discarded plastic is currently killing marine life, threatening food security, contributing to climate change, damaging economies, and dissolving into microplastics that contaminate land, water, the atmosphere and even the human bloodstream.
The U.N. parties will debate how comprehensive the treaty they write will be: Should it, for example, protect just the oceans or the whole planet? Should it focus mainly on reuse/recycling, or control plastics manufacture and every step of the supply chain and waste stream?
The U.S. has changed its position from opposition to such a treaty under President Donald Trump, to support under President Joe Biden, but has yet to articulate exactly what it wants in an agreement. While environmental NGOs are pushing for a comprehensive treaty, plastics companies, who say they support regulation, likely will want to limit the treaty’s scope.
At the end of February, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) will tackle a challenging task: the creation of a landmark treaty to control plastic pollution worldwide. While most nations have agreed to participate, the scope and timing of such an agreement aren’t settled, with many countries, environmental NGOs, and the plastics industry expressing widely different ideas as to what should be included.
Trash dumped near the parked boats in the central province of Thanh Hoa. Photo by Nguyen Viet Hung.
Vietnam should strive for zero disposable plastic use in urban stores, markets and supermarkets by 2021, the PM says.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that plastic waste is a global problem. “Every year, the amount of plastic waste emitted by humans is enough to cover four times the surface area of the earth, including 13 million tons of plastic waste floating on the oceans.”
Plastic waste from Australia in Port Klang, Malaysia. Malaysia says it will send back some 3,300 tons of nonrecyclable plastic waste to countries including the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. AP Photo/Vincent Thian
Since May 2018, imports of scrap plastic have banned at major ports in Vietnam until further notice. In July 2018, the Vietnamese government announced it will no longer issue new license for plastic waste import.