What are the next steps to ending plastic pollution?

Ending plastic pollution: next steps
A.L. Balbo – planthro.org
05 June 2023

On the occasion of the 'World Environment Day', Platform anthropocene (#planthro) joined the 'Multilateral solutions to end plastic pollution', an event organized at the International environment house in Geneva, as part of the 'Geneva beat plastic pollution dialogues'. It brough together key stakeholders and relevant organizations from the 'Paris plastic pollution summit' where 175 countries had agreed one week earlier to complete the first draft  of the international treaty on plastic pollution by November 2023.

The discussions at the event in Geneva addressed key connections between multiple dimensions and approaches to ending plastic pollution, centering on three main themes:

  • Plastic and health
  • Plastic and climate crisis
  • Plastic and human rights

The participants focused on the most promising pathways to reduce plastic pollution. They all agreed on the pressing need for a 'system change approach to transform the plastic life cycle'. This means promoting actions across sectors at all levels: private and public, national and international. The following priorities were identified:

  • Ending the production of new plastic, i.e. primary plastic
  • Ending the production and circulation of single-use plastic items
  • Promoting circular economies of plastics, i.e. reusing and recycling of plastics
  • Leveraging on nature-based solutions, i.e. using alternative materials

Here is a selection of prominent speakers and their views at the event:

  • Arnold Kreilhuber, the newly appointed Director of EU office at the UN Development Programme (UNDP, since May 2023), opened the event
  • Emmanuelle Lachaussée, the Deputy permanent representative of France to the UN (Geneva office), mentioned the successful initiative of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, where the commercialization of plastic bags was ended as early as 2014. She also recalled the recent engagement of the G7 to end additional plastic pollution by 2030 
  • Allou Lambert Yao, the Deputy permanent representative of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, confirmed that his country, along with the Netherlands, is at the forefront of inititatives for reducing plastic pollution 
  • Maria Neira, the Director of the Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department (PHE) of the World Health Organization (WHO), informed the audience that, for the first time, the COP28 in Dubai (30.11.2023 – 12.12.2023) will have a day dedicated to exploring linkages between health, climate change, and pollution
  • Maria Daniela Garcia Freire, the Deputy permanent representative for the Republic of Ecuador at the World Trade Organization (WTO), estimated that trade regulations could contribute to reducing plastic pollution by as much as 30%
  • Moustapha Kamal Gueye, the Global coordinator of the Green Jobs Programme at the International Labour Organization (ILO), estimates that the transition to circular economies can generate about 8 million jobs, while 78 million people would need retraining and upskilling to stay relevant to the same industry and country 
  • Zuhair Ahmed Kowshik, the Global coordinator of Official Youth Constituency to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), highlighted the importance of reintroducing indigenous knowledge from pre-plastic era among the youth. He also stated that the Rights of Nature should be an integral part of the negotiations to end plastic pollution
  • David Azoulay, the Director of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL),  representing the civil society, proposed a definition of plastic pollution as a combination of all the risks and emissions associated with the plastic cycle
Coming out of this rich and informative meeting, I wondered what difference it would make if plastic sank. This is to say, what would be the pros and cons if ocean garbage patches became geological layers of the anthorpocene - stored at the bottom of the ocean, out of reach for most ocean life, and away from the food cycle.
Image credits: Garbage Patches. Garbage patches are found in the calm, stable centers of many of the world's ocean gyres. Even smaller bodies of water, such as the Mediterranean and North Seas, are developing their own garbage patches along heavily trafficked shipping lanes. Maps by Jamie Hawk, National Geographic

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