Single-use plastics have been causing problems around the globe for years, contributing to litter on beaches, microplastics in our soils and drinking water, and accumulating in the great pacific garbage patch. We need to start reducing the production of these plastics and making sure that they don’t end up littering the environment. This week, 193 countries are aiming to start that process by creating a committee to create a treaty limiting plastic pollution.
The proposal for the treaty is based on the UN’s climate treaty, and it aims to encourage nations to adopt action plans, set targets for waste reduction, create standard ways to monitor compliance and establish a scientific advisory council. This will be the first global treaty to address plastics at the source, rather than just addressing hazardous chemicals and degraded microplastics. It is an important first step to standardize measurement and production methods to be able to compare and spot trends across time and locations. This can keep the data gaps smaller and make analytics for decision-making more useful. The committee would also be good for smaller, less developed nations to receive training, research support, funding, and technological advances.
More detailed information about where plastic comes from, where it is produced, transported, sold, consumed, could help nations to see the largest sources and learn to regulate them. We must be able to calculate the risks and rewards of creating and using plastics for different industries and make accommodations where we can. Disposable plastics will likely never leave the healthcare industry, as sterile new disposable equipment is essential to modern care. But plastic bottles, plastic shopping bags, and plastic packaging have no real benefit to being disposable other than consumptive convenience.
Estimates on recycled plastic would also be helpful data, so we can reuse as much plastic as possible to keep it from the oceans a little longer, and slow down the production of new plastic. The committee aims to finalize the treaty in just two years, an ambitious task, but we need this kind of leadership as soon as possible. Hopefully, they make good progress in the next two years and we can begin to make a dent in the plastic problem.