Editor’s Note: Unfortunately disruption has made this edition of The Badger a little different. Unavoidable circumstances meant that this edition was delayed. Consequently, some of these articles are a little older and we haven’t been able to get the newest stories to you this time. However, we think that it is fair that those who wrote great articles have them published, and these important stories are read by you.

Words by Cameron Trencher, Staff Writer

A summit between world leaders held in Nairobi, Kenya from 28th February to 2nd March was a ‘critical moment’ in humanity’s fight against plastic pollution, director of the UN Environment Programme Inger Andersen has said.

More than 100 UN member states, including every nation of the European Union and the United States, agreed on a resolution to curb the environmental impact of single-use plastic by addressing the full lifecycle of the material, from manufacture to disposal.

The bill aims to be the first major piece of global legislation to target plastic waste, and has the potential to be the most important treaty since the 2015 Paris Agreement which sought to mitigate climate change, according to Andersen. A draft of the bill titled “End plastic pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument” would see the resolution enforced between states that ratify it rather than a voluntary target. Major plastic polluters like the United States and China have voiced in favour of general plastic legislation, and the talks will be rallied by strong public support.

A draft of the treaty proposed by Rwanda and Peru aims to take a ‘circular economy’ approach to plastic, a process which will consider the environmental impact of plastic both before and after it reaches the consumer. This system would ensure plastic is reused and recycled continuously.

Among the items on the first draft of the treaty are calls to promote sustainable design of plastic packaging, effectively banning single-use plastic. This move would mirror a ban on disposable plastic implemented in France at the start of the year but on a much larger scale, impacting all products rather than just specific fruits and vegetable packaging. An alternate resolution would focus on waste management and marine pollution, and nations plan to merge aspects of both. By making it easier for plastic products to be recycled, less of the material will rot as waste. 

Almost 80% of plastic ever produced currently sits in landfills and the natural environment, with only around 9% being recycled. 8 million tonnes of plastic reach the oceans every year and oceanic plastic litter is expected to quadruple over the next three decades, necessitating legislation to restrict the amount of plastic that makes it into nature. Much of this waste is single-use plastics, which make up 40% of plastic production. These can only be used once before disposal, are rarely able to be recycled, and in the case of plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose.

The summit has faced opposition from the American Chemistry Council, a coalition of companies centred around oil and the production of plastic. According to leaks from one anonymous employee, the ACC has been in contact with US government officials to discuss the benefits of plastic. The ACC notes that disposable plastic has a smaller initial carbon footprint when compared to glass for packaging as it is lighter and more cost-effective to transport, though this does not consider that glass is much easier to recycle compared to its oil-based counterpart. Big oil and chemical companies are predicted to double their plastic output over the next 20 years, and the current draft of the bill would be a blow to an industry that relies on pollution.

The UN plans to have the final treaty ready for ratification by 2024, and will form an intergovernmental committee to negotiate details.

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