Plastic is ubiquitous across terrestrial and marine environments and has recently been discovered in human blood. In just 100 years plastic has gone from scientific development to a global catastrophe. Prolific pollutants like plastic transcend borders, take minutes to use and millions of years too biodegrade. Tackling this prolific environmental pollutant means stopping plastic pollution at its source, which will require a collaborative approach. Recently, 175 countries have made a legally binding agreement to tackle plastic pollution from each part of its lifecycle: from production to consumption and disposal. The agreement has been heralded the “biggest multilateral environmental deal” since the 2015 Paris climate agreement (UN Environment Programme).
Global plastics use has quadrupled, growing from 2 million tonnes to 380 million tonnes between 1950 and 2015 (Nature, 2019), 40% of which is single-use single-use. To tackle single-use plastics we need to take legally binding action to reduce their consumption.
“Internalising the external costs of single-use plastics should be made legally binding. This means, that single-used plastics must be more expensive in comparison to reusable products …This could be realised through an environmental tax on single-used plastics since these products are harming the environmental and causing external costs such as contamination.“
– Max Martin, PPSS Partner, Orcatec.
Plastic issues tend to stem from wealthier countries who use 2.5 times more plastic per capita than developing countries. This treaty recognises that lower-income countries may find it harder to deal with plastic pollution than high-income countries, and that we need a financing model to ensure lower-income countries have resources to deal with turning off the plastic tap and move to circular plastic economies. The treaty also recognises that addressing plastic in our ocean and on land requires interventions at the source; what we are seeing here is a move from plastics being understood as a ‘litter’ issue to being understood as a systemic issue which requires intervention on a global scale.
“The PPSS network unites experts in marine ecology, modelling, conservation, and outreach from European and South American countries to address the multifaceted impacts of plastic pollution on sensitive ecosystems, marine wildlife, and socioeconomics, by better understanding the sources, sinks, impacts and risks of plastic pollution on sensitive marine ecosystems“, Matthew Cole, PPSS Partner, PML.
“Our network has a unique role in providing advice to make evidence-informed decisions. This means having the best available science to support decisions and taking into account the local and indigenous knowledge to create solutions for plastic pollution“, Lucia Norris, PPSS Partner, GCT. With work beginning to implement the strategy globally by 2024 PPSS already has considerable experience with international approaches to tackling plastic pollution, which could be upscaled globally as we work together on this treaty.
Whilst this treaty is an exciting step in our global approach to the plastic problem, the devil will be in the detail of the treaty, which is being worked on for implementation in 2024. One thing for certain is that “no greenwashing should be allowed” – Lucia Norris. In the meantime, PPSS continues to work with partners and local communities to turn the tide on plastic pollution in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.