Progress towards a treaty on plastic pollution

In March of this year, the United Nations passed an historic resolution which may result in a legally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution in the oceans.

The resolution was adopted at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) held in Nairobi. Representatives from 175 nations agreed to launch negotiations on a legally binding agreement to combat plastic pollution which should be ready by 2024.

The resolution establishes an Intergovernmental ­Negotiating Committee which will begin its work in 2022. The aim is to present a legally binding instrument which should address the full lifecycle of plastics from ­production to disposal, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for international collaboration.

An increasing problem

Plastic production has increased vastly over the last 70 years, from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to 348 million tonnes in 2017. With an expected further increase in plastic production in the coming years, the negative impact of plastic pollution on the environment is substantial and increasing.

The president of the UNEA-5, Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment Espen Barth Eide, said that plastic pollution had grown into an epidemic and that the resolution reached in Nairobi was putting the world officially on track for a cure.

Pollution of the marine environment

In addition to the impact on human health and air pollution, ­plastic ­pollution also has a strong ­negative impact on the marine environment. An estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow annually into the world’s oceans – an amount which may triple by 2040. This is impacting more than 800 marine and costal species that are affected through ingestion, entangle­ment and other dangers.

In recent times, there have been several incidents where plastic pellets lost from ships have polluted coastlines. Authorities have often referred to the risk of microplastic pollution when requiring shipowners and insurers to remove shipwrecks. It will be interesting to see what impact a potential plastic treaty will have on the shipping industry.

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