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UN Environment Summit Adopts Historic Agreement on Plastic Waste

The United Nations Environment Assembly, meeting in Nairobi, has adopted a resolution detailing what to do about plastic pollution. It calls for two years of negotiations toward a comprehensive, international treaty on the full life cycle of plastics.

Delegates from 175 countries endorsed an agreement Wednesday that addresses plastic waste.

The United Nations says 400 million tons of plastic is produced every year, and that figure is set to double by 2040.

Rwanda is one of the countries that banned plastic in its territory and is pushing for a plastic-free world.

Rwanda’s environment minister, Jeanne Mujawamariya, said her country would benefit a great deal from global regulation of the use of plastics.

“If adopted, the creation of a legally binding instrument would be greatly significant for countries like Rwanda, where we have made good progress,” she said. “Systematic global change is needed if we are to clean up the current mess, develop sustainable alternatives and make them affordable.”

The debate surrounding plastic pollution has been on the U.N. agenda since 2012.

Recycling has remained one of the effective ways of reducing plastics. The Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental nonprofit organization, said the existing method of managing plastic is not sustainable.

Less than 10% of plastic that has been produced is being recycled, 76% is discarded into landfills, and experts warn its production will triple by 2050.

Amina Mohammed, the United Nations deputy secretary-general, told the meeting attendees not to fear a future without plastic.

“While we have learned to recycle plastic, we need a far more robust approach to tackle this enormous problem and ensure systemic change through strong action upstream and downstream,” Mohammed said. “We must be ambitious and move faster to win this battle. This is going to require genuine collaborations and partnerships with a shared vision.

The fight against plastic pollution aims to reduce plastic going into the oceans by 80% by the end of the year 2040 and create 700,000 jobs by that time.

Jane Patton, the plastic and petrochemicals campaign manager at the Center for International Environmental Law, told VOA the agreement will mandate that companies producing plastics manage the waste being emitted.

“The resolution specifically calls for a legally binding instrument, which is good, as we have seen the companies that are producing this plastic waste and putting it into the environment, they don’t follow through commitments unless they are legally bound to do that,” she said. “And so, we are excited to see that the treaty will have both a mandatory and voluntary commitments by government, and that will affect companies to address this problem.”

The head of the U.N. Environment Program, Inger Andersen, said adopting the plastic treaty is the most important international environmental agreement since the 2016 Paris climate accord took effect.

Source: Voice of America