The World Moves to End Plastic Pollution


Let me paint you a familiar scene. You hurry into a supermarket to pick up a few things on your way home after a long day. You get ten different fresh food products, putting each in a separate plastic bag before weighing and putting it in your basket. You go to the meat section and pick out your protein of choice, neatly placed on a Styrofoam platter and wrapped in saran wrap. Then you shop for some spices, all in their own little plastic containers. With your basket filled with produce all individually packaged in plastic bags, the cashier rings your stuff up and gives you some more plastic bags to put your purchases in.

You arrive home and start unpacking all those products, filling your bin with discarded plastic bags and containers. These bags were used once for an hour or less; they were made in a factory that used up resources and emitted pollution into the environment that will last for way longer than their brief usage time. Very shortly, they will end up in their final resting place: the landfill; a place you do not really think much of. Have you ever thought about how long your discarded plastics will live there? Probably longer than your own lifespan and then some.

It is no secret that plastic poses a great threat not only to our health but also to our planet’s health. It is estimated that humanity produces more than 430 million tons of plastic every year! With the rate we are going, plastic production is projected to triple by 2060. This is alarming because the vast majority of plastics ends up in landfills, oceans, rivers, and even works its way into the food chain, reaching our bodies.

This problematic trajectory that we are on is why around 170 countries have agreed to develop a draft for a legally binding global treaty to end plastic pollution. The road to the final treaty is almost halfway; five rounds of meetings were scheduled, where delegates from countries, companies, and activists are negotiating its terms. Two rounds have already taken place and there are three more rounds to go. The next round of meetings will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, by the end of 2023 at the UN Environment Programme Headquarters. The deadline for the final version of the treaty is at the end of 2024.

There are high hopes from a coalition of “high-ambition” governments who want to end plastic pollution by 2040. They aim to drastically lower plastic production, as well as limit the chemicals used in plastics. However, there are parties that want to focus more on recycling plastic rather than limiting its production. Activists are worried that oil producing countries, as well as fossil fuel industries will hamper the creation of the treaty and water down its terms, but this remains to be seen. Here’s to hoping that those working on the treaty have our planet’s best interest at the forefront of their agenda.

While it is important for governments and companies to act to curb plastic pollution, we need to do the same in our daily lives. First step is to become aware of the amounts of plastic we flippantly use and start making positive changes when possible. We need to look at our daily routines, see where we have been using single use plastics and switch to more sustainable alternatives (read “Go Green series”). We are in this together; if we want change to happen, we must be a part of the solution.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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