Plastics pollution

Written by  //  June 20, 2024  //  Environment & Energy, United Nations  //  No comments

So long plastic air pillows: Amazon shifting to recycled paper filling for packages in North America
(CTV) Amazon is shifting from the plastic air pillows used for packaging in North America to recycled paper because it’s more environmentally sound, and it says paper just works better.
The company said Thursday that it’s already replaced 95 per cent of the plastic air pillows with paper filler in North America and is working toward complete removal by year’s end.
“We want to ensure that customers receive their items undamaged, while using as little packaging as possible to avoid waste, and prioritizing recyclable materials,” Amazon said.
It is the company’s largest plastic packaging reduction effort in North America to date and will remove almost 15 billion plastic air pillows from use annually.
The e-commerce giant has faced years of criticism about its use of plastic from environmental groups, including a nonprofit called Oceana, which has been releasing its own reports on Amazon’s use of plastic packaging.

5 June
Lawsuits Targeting Plastic Pollution Pile Up as Frustrated Citizens and States Seek Accountability
New litigation from state AG offices raises the stakes in court battles focused on fighting greenwashing and misleading claims about recycling.
(Inside Climate News) From South Carolina to California, nearly 60 lawsuits have been filed since 2015, mostly by citizens or environmental groups, targeting the plastics industry. The litigation comes amid a rapidly expanding body of scientific knowledge detailing how burgeoning plastics production damages the planet and threatens public health.
Most recently, attorneys general in Connecticut, Minnesota and New York have raised the stakes with their own plastics lawsuits, bringing with them considerable legal firepower.

29 April-1 May
Headed Toward the Finish Line, Plastics Treaty Delegates ‘Work is Far From Over’
Some environmental groups see the United States, the global leader in oil production, as an obstacle to a robust plastics agreement
(Inside Climate News) As the treaty negotiations that began two years ago head toward a year-end deadline, environmental advocates raised a warning flag about “low-ambition efforts,” while a plastics industry group praised “the progress governments have made towards a legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution.”
… For their part, United Nations Environment Program officials found reason for optimism as delegates from 170 nations went home from a meeting dubbed “INC-4” saying delegates had advanced the draft text of an agreement, which was one of goals for the seven days of treaty talks. They also said that delegates agreed to let the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution continue working before its fifth and planned final meeting later this year in Busan, South Korea—another goal coming into the talks.

Countries consider pact to reduce plastic production by 40% in 15 years
(The Guardian) Motion sets out worldwide target in alignment with Paris agreement to limit global heating to 1.5C
Countries are for the first time considering restrictions on the global production of plastic – to reduce it by 40% in 15 years – in an attempt to protect human health and the environment.
As the world attempts to make a treaty to cut plastic waste at UN talks in Ottawa, Canada, two countries have put forward the first concrete proposal to limit production to reduce its harmful effects including the huge carbon emissions from producing it.
The motion submitted by Rwanda and Peru sets out a global reduction target, ambitiously termed a “north star”, to cut the production of primary plastic polymers across the world by 40% by 2040, from a 2025 baseline.

24 April
Can a New UN Treaty Curb Plastic Pollution?
Global problems require global solutions
Mark Leon Goldberg
(Global Dispatches) -The UN has a solid track record when it comes to environmental treaties.
To be sure, governments are still far short of meeting the Paris Agreement goals, and the Conference of Parties (COP) process to close that gap is woefully insufficient. However, when it comes to crafting more narrowly targeted environmental treaties, the United Nations has been broadly successful.
The 1987 Montreal Protocol is probably the best example of a significant United Nations environmental treaty. This treaty created regulations around certain chemicals that, at the time, were burning a hole in the Earth’s ozone layer. Thanks to this treaty, there is no longer a hole in the ozone. Another good example is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which (among other things) developed a system of regulations for deep-sea mineral extraction. Also, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity supports healthy ecosystems and includes sub-treaties like the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species. More recently, the United Nations Treaty on Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, also known as the High Seas Treaty, was agreed upon last year as a “legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.” …
Plastic Pollution is a Major Global Problem
Approximately 2,000 truckloads of plastic are dumped into the ocean each day, damaging ecosystems and harming marine life. As these plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles, they enter our food system. People around the world are increasingly consuming harmful amounts of plastic. Meanwhile, current recycling systems can’t keep up with the pace of plastic production, which could triple by 2050. And of course, the manufacture of plastic requires the same fossil fuels that are accelerating climate change.
Plastic manufacturing is transnational, as are recycling systems. Plastic dumped into the ocean in one part of the world can affect countries downstream. Simply put, this is one of those global problems that calls for a global solution.
In 2022, diplomats from 175 countries kickstarted negotiations toward a UN treaty on plastic pollution and set a goal to reach an agreement by 2024. This week, in Ottawa, negotiators are in a penultimate round of talks as they race toward the end-of-year deadline.

23 April
World must come together to tackle plastic pollution, says chair of UN talks
Ecuadorian ambassador to the UK is hopeful impasse can be overcome at treaty negotiations in Ottawa
As UN talks begin to agree the first global treaty to reduce soaring plastic waste, the chair of the meetings has said he is confident countries will come together to secure an agreement.
Luis Vayas Valdivieso, …who will chair the UN intergovernmental negotiations on a future international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution in Ottawa, Canada, this week, said: “We have to face those challenges and work with them. Compromise is an important word that we need to take into account.
Plastic pollution is a critical global concern, with about 400m tonnes produced every year, much of which ends up in our oceans or in landfill. Beyond the crisis of pollution, there is also a growing body of science exploring the rapid way that microplastics are affecting human health; a recent US study looked at 62 human placentas and found microplastics in every single one.

In a historic agreement in March 2022 countries adopted a mandate opening negotiations for a global, legally binding treaty to address the whole life cycle of plastics.

Previous negotiations in Nairobi stalled last November when oil-producing nations proposed to focus on waste management rather than scaling down production of plastic. Most – 98% – of single-use plastics are made from fossil fuels, and the top seven plastic-producing companies are fossil fuel companies, according to data from 2021.

21 April
What’s at stake as UN plastics treaty talks get underway in Canada
(Globe & Mail) From ghost fishing gear drifting in the ocean to containers that end up in landfills, plastic now turns up nearly everywhere, including Arctic zooplankton and human placentas.
This week in Ottawa, delegates from 174 countries will meet in the hopes of stemming the plastic tide, as Canada hosts the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution, or INC-4.
That committee, which falls under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Program, was set up in 2022 with the goal of crafting an international, legally binding plastics treaty by the end of 2024. The Ottawa session is the last set of negotiations before the fifth and final session, scheduled for November in South Korea. So, the stakes are high, with delegates under pressure to nail down terms to regulate a substance used in everything from cars to medical equipment while coming up with ways to ensure that less of it winds up in oceans or landfills.
In an April 18 statement, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault called the talks “a historic opportunity to tackle the global plastics crisis.” In addition to hosting the talks, Canada is also a founding member of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, a group of countries that banded together in 2022 under the banner of ending plastic pollution by 2040.
20 April
William Shatner: The world can change course before we arrive at Planet Plastic
When the USS Enterprise first set voyage on our screens more than half a century ago, science fiction was full of space pioneers racing to discover new reaches of the universe, their authors imagining what the future might look like.
As the face of one of those space pioneers for nearly 30 years, I have one message for world leaders: imagine a plastic-free future.
If Captain James Kirk visited Earth today, he might as well be returning to Planet Plastic. From the highest mountain tops to the deepest ocean trenches to the air we breathe and the blood flowing through our bodies, the forever substance has proven to be the ultimate winner of the longevity race throughout space and time. Plastic waste and microplastics in our oceans can now even be mapped from space.
What started as a curious invention has exploded into a planetary crisis. The amount of plastic the world has produced has risen from about 15 million tonnes to more than 300 million tonnes over the past half-century. In animal terms, we’ve produced 80 million blue whales’ worth of plastic since the 1950s. How many starships would that fill?

16 April
As Plastic Treaty Delegates Head to Canada, A Plea From the Arctic: Don’t Forget Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples
Advocates hope a U.N. meeting can revive plastics pollution talks and meet a year-end goal for a global agreement.
(Inside Climate News) Indigenous people from Arctic communities are calling for environmental protection in the runup to this month’s round of negotiations aimed at securing a global treaty to end plastic pollution.
U.N. talks resume April 23 in Ottawa and are expected to draw delegates from nearly 180 countries to Canada who seek to advance a plastics treaty with an ambitious charge: to embrace a broad definition of the problem that encompasses “the full life-cycle” of plastics.
At the meeting, Alaskan Natives and Canadian First Nations indigenous people will urge delegates to focus on industrial chemical pollutants – including micro- and nanoplastics – that travel through ocean and air currents to far northern latitudes. They will share a new report that reviews the latest science on how chemicals and plastics are now found in traditional food sources such as walruses and seals and threaten Arctic people’s health and environment.
“To learn that these microplastics are ending up in our main foods, but also in our bodies, is yet another alarm for the decision makers,” said Vi Waghiyi, environmental health and justice director with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an Anchorage-based environmental justice organization. …
Waghiyi is a co-author of “The Arctic’s Plastic Crisis: Toxic Threats to Health, Human Rights and Indigenous Lands from the Petrochemical Industry,” a report released Tuesday by Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a global network of more than 600 nongovernmental organizations in 128 countries working to eliminate toxic pollutants.
“The Arctic is a hemispheric sink for chemicals and plastics that are transported on atmospheric and oceanic currents from lower latitudes through a process known as global distillation or the grasshopper effect,” according to the report. It points to “the combined effects of chemicals and plastics in the Arctic that are exacerbated by rapid climate warming, all of which are consequences of destructive exploitation by the fossil fuel, chemicals, and plastics industries.”
The meeting in Canada will be the delegates’ fourth in a two-year process to reach an agreement on plastics by year’s end. Talks bogged down five months ago in Nairobi when fossil fuels lobbyists came out in force to weaken proposals. A final meeting is planned for late November, and there is some hope that the Canada talks could re-set the effort.
Still, environmental groups are worried that oil-producing countries, including the United States, could stall or weaken efforts to address what the United Nations has identified as .
“This meeting is, to a degree, make or break,” said Björn Beeler, the international coordinator with IPEN. …
Some countries, through the talks, have aligned. There is one coalition dubbed the nations of “high ambition” including dozens of countries and the European Union that seek “binding provisions in the treaty to restrain and reduce the consumption and production of primary plastic polymers to sustainable levels.” Another is calling itself the coalition of “like-minded countries,” including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Iran and Cuba, that resists production cuts while favoring waste management and recycling solutions. Many in that group are major oil or gas producers.
The plastics crisis and treaty negotiations were discussed in a session at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in early April [Penn hosts five-day conference for environmental journalists on climate change, disinformation]. Grant Cope, a senior advisor to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, told journalists there that the Biden administration wants “a universally binding treaty that reduces plastic pollution … across the entire lifecycle.” An environmental lawyer, Cope said the agreement needed to offer “flexibility for individual countries” to select the best method for plastic pollution reductions at home.
The talks are taking place amid a growing awareness of the scope of the the threat plastics pose to the planet despite their many practical uses.
In March, European researchers with the Plastchem Project, funded by the Norwegian Research Council, counted a staggering 16,000 chemicals found in various plastics, 3,000 more than were identified in an earlier United Nations report. As many as a quarter of the chemicals in the new study are considered harmful to people or the environment.
Plastic waste can accumulate in giant gyres of garbage in the ocean. In turn, the waste can and be consumed by marine mammals, causing serious health problems or death.
As plastic breaks down in the environment from sunlight or weathering, or through mechanical processes that scrape, chop or abrase, it can turn into smaller particles, and micro- and even smaller nano-plastics have spread around the globe. Inhaled or injested, this plastic residue has now been documented in the blood, feces and placental fluids of humans. …
In January, a study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society linked the use of some plastic additives — chemicals that make plastics more flexible and durable — as contributing to high health-care costs in the United States. The study concluded that these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates and other plastics additives, could be linked in 2018 to an estimated $250 billion in added health costs.
Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the study’s lead author, told journalists at the recent Philadelphia conference that the link between plastics and health costs should prompt change.
In January, Trasande and researcher Marina Fernandez, based in Argentina, published an article in the Journal of the Endocrine Society assessing the plastics treaty efforts, saying the talks offer “the opportunity for harmonized, international regulation of chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties present in plastic products.”
Fernandez, in an email to further explain the study, said the treaty could be a “strong, legally binding instrument that protects human and environmental health by limiting plastic production and reducing exposure to harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastics.” …

2023

13 November
Nations convene in Kenya to hammer out treaty on plastic pollution
Delegates in Nairobi mulling two options: a wide-ranging strategy that would target plastics production or a limited approach focussed on waste management.
(Al Jazeera) International delegates have convened in Kenya in the hopes of making further progress towards a landmark treaty to fight global plastic pollution.
Addressing the first day of the talks in the capital, Nairobi, on Monday, Kenyan President William Ruto said that time is running out to reach a deal before the end of 2023, a deadline set in March of last year.
‘We can’t carry on’: the godfather of microplastics on how to stop them
As a UN summit in Nairobi debates a treaty on plastic pollution, Richard Thompson, the biologist who first identified microplastics 30 years ago, explains why ocean cleanups and biodegradables will not solve a global crisis
(The Guardian) A UN-led plastics treaty is a “once-in-a-planet opportunity”, Thompson says, but on some of the supposed solutions being put forth, he is very clear. He is adamant that biodegradable plastic cannot save us. Neither can any amount of “cleanups”, like his own fateful expedition in 1993.
What’s worse, he thinks, is that if the plastics treaty sends the world chasing the wrong ideas, microplastics pollution will only worsen. “There’s a real risk that worries me,” he says. “That if we guess at this, we’ll get it wrong.”

17 May
UN Agency Provides Path to 80 Percent Reduction in Plastic Waste. Recycling Alone Won’t Cut It
(Inside Climate News) As the benefits of recycling are called into question, the United Nations Environment Program counts 13,000 chemicals in plastic, many of them toxic, and offers a challenging, multifaceted action plan to sharply reduce plastic waste by 2040.
As delegates prepare to meet for a second negotiation on a global treaty to curtail plastic pollution, a pair of new reports from the United Nations Environment Program offers a roadmap of potential solutions to cut plastic waste by 80 percent—but also reveal the complexity of the problem.
Another recent United Nations action blocked what the chemical and plastic industries sometimes call “chemical recycling” from being fully incorporated into important global technical guidelines for managing plastic waste, potentially minimizing the role of such processes in any future global plastics treaty.
Together, this flurry of activity precedes the next round of U.N. plastics treaty talks to be held in Paris May 29 to June 2 as part of fast-tracked negotiations scheduled to wrap up by the end of next year. Last year, 175 nations agreed to find a way to stop future plastic production from choking ocean and land ecosystems and to clean up legacy plastic pollution.

2022

3 December
Divisions remain on plastics treaty as UN talks close in Uruguay
First round of negotiations aimed at crafting the first legally binding agreement on plastics ends in Punta del Este.
(Al Jazeera) The first round of negotiations on a global treaty to halt plastic pollution has ended in a split on whether goals and efforts should be global and mandatory, or voluntary and country-led.
More than 2,000 delegates from 160 countries met in Uruguay for the first of a planned five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), a UN negotiating body aimed at crafting the first legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.

10 November
Senegal’s ‘Plastic Man’ on a mission against trash
Environmental activist Modou Fall is working to raise awareness about the dangers of plastics in the northwest African nation

1 July
India bans 19 single-use plastic items to combat pollution
Ban includes plastic straws, disposable cutlery, earbuds, candy and ice cream packaging, and cigarette packets.
Plastic waste has become a significant source of pollution in India, the world’s second-most populous country, and rapid economic growth has fuelled demand for goods that come with single-use plastic products, such as straws and disposable cutlery.
Thousands of other plastic products – such as plastic bottles – are not covered by the ban. But the federal government has set targets for manufacturers to be responsible for recycling or disposing of them after their use.

3 June
Global plastic waste is projected to triple by 2060: OECD
Even with aggressive action to cut demand, plastic production would almost double in less than 40 years.
A world severely blighted by plastic pollution is on track to see the use of plastics nearly triple in less than four decades, according to newly released findings.
Annual production of fossil fuel-based plastics is set to top 1.2 billion tonnes by 2060 and waste to exceed 1 billion tonnes, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Friday.
The report said this increase will be driven by economic and population growth, the largest increases are expected in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
According to the OECD even with aggressive action to cut demand and improve efficiencies, plastic production would almost double in less than 40 years.
Such globally coordinated policies, however, could hugely boost the share of future plastic waste that is recycled, from 12 to 40 percent.
There is increasing international alarm over volume and omnipresence of plastics pollution, and its effect.
Infiltrating the remotest and otherwise pristine regions of the planet, microplastics have been discovered inside fish in the deepest recesses of the ocean and locked inside Arctic ice.
The debris is estimated to cause the deaths of more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals each year.
“Plastic pollution is one of the great environmental challenges of the 21st century, causing wide-ranging damage to ecosystems and human health,” OECD chief Mathias Cormann said.
Since the 1950s, roughly 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced with more than 60 percent of that tossed into landfills, burned or dumped directly into rivers and oceans.

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