UN negotiators agreed on Wednesday to create a legally binding global treaty to “end plastic pollution” by 2024. The agreement, which will cover the full lifespan of plastics, including their production and could include a ban on single-use plastics, was hailed by the head of the UN Environment Program as the most important international environmental agreement since the Paris Agreement seven years ago.
“The issue is not just plastic in the ocean; the issue is plastic pollution throughout its life cycle,” David Azoulay, a lawyer at the Center for International Environmental Law, told the Washington Post, citing the inclusion of a negotiating committee specifically charged with plastic production. The agreement is also the first to formally recognize the key, and hazardous role trash pickers play. “We waste pickers have to be involved in this process,” Ruiz Grisales of Bogotá, Colombia, who began working at dump sites at the age of 12 and is now a leader in the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Waste Pickers, told the New York Times. “We work the trash 12, 14 or 16 hours a day … It’s a poverty trap.”
Just 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled and a ban on new and single-use plastics will be “the million-dollar question” of the treaty negotiations, Azoulay said. The VP for plastics of the American Chemistry Council, a trade association that counts Chevron, Exxon, and Shell among its top members, said reducing and regulating plastic production, “very shortsighted.” The U.S. is the world’s largest source of plastic pollution. (New York Times $, Washington Post $, AP, Reuters, Bloomberg $, Yale Environment 360, Thomson Reuters Foundation, FT $, The Hill)