Plastic Pollution: A Planetary Catastrophe That Urges An International Treaty

    Alberto Quesada Rojas: The problem is quickly becoming irreversible on its consequences to the planet

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    The negative impact of plastic waste pollution on the environment is undeniable. More than 800 species of animals are affected by these wastes, including all species of sea turtles, more than 40% of species of cetaceans and 44% of species of seabirds. According to a study by the international organization Pew, the annual discharge of plastics into the ocean will triple by 2040 and will reach 29 million tons per year.

    Plastic production and incineration also contributes to climate change: more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases were generated in 2019. By 2040, the emissions of these gases will reach 19% of the total annual emissions allowed, according to the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in world temperature below 1.5 ° C.

    Simultaneous measurements

    The measures taken to deal with this problem vary from country to country and range from prohibitions to taxes. But many nations, including those in Latin America, have failed to bring about real changes to combat plastic waste pollution. Faced with a dilemma that impacts the entire planet, a global solution is required: an international treaty that revolutionizes the international legal framework, implements structural measures in different areas and promotes the necessary changes efficiently.

    For 3 years, in spaces such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the discussion on the need for an agreement began. In particular, countries in Northern Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa have officially declared their position in favor of the agreement, as have global business sectors. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru have expressed their formal support; however, greater commitment in the region is urgently needed.

    At the last meeting of the XXII Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, held on February 1st and 2nd, the environmental authorities of the region echoed the call to address the problem of plastic pollution in a comprehensive way “a through a preventive and life-cycle approach, including a combination of political, regulatory, financial, technological, educational and control measures, at different levels, and supporting global action and international cooperation to tackle pollution”.

    A comprehensive approach

    Reducing the crisis of plastic pollution requires a combination of solutions and profound transformations to the economic and social system. Changes must be made throughout the life cycle of plastic: extraction-transformation, production-marketing, use-waste.

    Based on technical criteria, both organizations and academia have highlighted several actions in which progress must be made in parallel and immediately:

    • Elimination of non-recyclable plastics production

    • Reduction and prohibition of the production of unnecessary plastics

    • Investment in research and production of truly substitute materials

    • Innovative designs that allow reuse and reduction of use

    • Ambitious investment in waste management systems, especially in final disposal and infrastructure for the fair and effective separation, transport and recycling of waste.

    Concerted approach needed

    These measures must be applied simultaneously and under the mutual agreement of the States and sectors involved: business people, communities, authorities and civil society. A strategy focused on isolated solutions (only bans or only recycling, for example) will not solve the problem in a structural and sustained way, as it is urgent. If all the actions considered today were implemented 100%, the amount of new plastic waste in the oceans would only be reduced by 7% by 2040.

    MarViva Foundation is part of the alliance that promotes the International Treaty on Plastic Pollution. Today, we vehemently call on the States of Latin America to make the most urgent, structural and efficient decisions in the fight against plastic pollution. The crisis is pressing and there is little time left to act.

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