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The First International Plastic Treaty is Here



 

173 government leaders met last week in Ottawa, Canada to set the stage for the first ever international treaty on plastic. It’s the plastic version of the Paris Climate Treaty. The fourth session of United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) showed progress from the first three sessions in Peru (2022), Paris (May 2023), and Nairobi (December 2024).  In this latest session they advanced from talking about ideas to negotiating actual language that will be put into the treaty.  The final round of the negotiations for this legally binding treating will take place in November 2024 in South Korea. 


Scientists have been warning about the problems of plastics for decades.  They are clogging our rivers and polluting our oceans.  Microfibers that escape into the air, soil and water are ingested into human and animal bodies, contributing to cancers, deformities, and diseases.  It takes decades and sometimes, centuries for plastics to breakdown, thus piling up wherever they land. For example, it takes a supermarket bag 20 years to break down fully. It takes a plastic water bottle an estimated 450 years, and a diaper 500 years.  The plastics break down into smaller and smaller fibers is called “microplastics.”  It is estimated that the average American ingests microplastics the equivalent of a credit card every week.  Recognizing that plastics are made primarily from petroleum and toxic chemicals, it is little wonder they are becoming an increasingly dangerous material in our world. 

 

Once again. the lobbyists from the fossil fuel and chemical industry are prevalent in Canada at the INC, arguing against reductions in production and pushing for a greater emphasis on recycling.  These highly paid lobbyists can be quite aggressive in these negotiations.   Bethanie Carney Almroth, an ecotoxicology professor at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg said scientists were being harassed and intimidated by lobbyists and she reported to the U.N. that a lobbyist yelled in her face at a meeting. 


 Numerous studies show that 75% of people throughout the world want to ban single use plastic.  Single use plastic like grocery bags, drinking straws, and water bottles account for about 50% of the total plastic we use.  Yet both the Indian and Chinese governments are opposed to limiting plastics production, despite public support for reducing plastics production, which stands at 92% in China and 86% in India.   Other countries like Brazil and the United States remain silent on the issue despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of their citizens want to ban single use plastics.  This shows the inordinate and non-democratic influence of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.

 

Religious leaders have traveled to Ottawa to bear witness to the plight of the people who live in regions near petrochemical plants and refineries.  They are inviting the negotiators to come to their neighborhoods in Texas or Louisiana to experience the air and water pollution first hand.  Jo Banner, of the St. John’s Baptist Parish in Louisiana said, “This is the best option we have to see change in our communities...This is the only chance and hope I have of helping my community repair from this, to heal.” 


The trajectory growth of plastic production and use is staggering.  Estimates are that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Most Americans have now heard of the “Plastic Island” in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size the state of Texas.  These are the kinds of harrowing numbers that are driving the INC to act.  Without a vast reduction in the production of plastic along with better methods of recycling what is produced, we have a less healthy and more diseased future. And once again the world’s poorest nations and people, which receive excess plastic from the wealthy nations, are those who suffer the most. 


The call of Christians to be love “the least of these” should compel us to advocate for a reduction of plastic. The excessive plastic thrown into the oceans and piling up on the shores of poor nations is a toxic tragedy that we can address. Let’s not be passive about plastic. We have agency. We can act from Christian faith and compassion to make the world a more hospitable place to live for all. 

 

What can you do to reduce plastic in the world and your life? 

Pray for the INC to negotiate a plan for humanity’s future that places people above plastic. 

Act in your home by using reusable tote bags for your shopping. 

Purchase products that don’t use plastic containers like boxes of washing powder. 

Shop at local farmer’s markets and bring your own reusable bag. 

Keep clothing longer and avoid short-term trendy purchases. 

Call or email your representatives to encourage them to support the reduction of plastic production.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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