Tackling Plastic Pollution at Forefront of World Environment Day

by | Jun 6, 2023

Plastic waste in a collection bin with more waste scattered on the ground.

(Credit: Canva)

Individuals, communities, businesses, and governments around the world started World Environment Day, on June 5, with a focus on timely solutions to plastic pollution following a recent report of a second round of negotiations regarding a global agreement to end plastic pollution in France.

This year – 2023 – marks the 50th anniversary of World Environment Day which was established in 1972 by the United Nations General Assembly. With the help of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the day has become one of the largest worldwide platforms for environmental outreach. More than tens of millions of people participate in World Environment Day online and in person through activities, events, and actions around the world.

Official celebrations were held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, with the support of the Netherlands. The city has become a hub for the encouragement of start-ups looking to get rid of plastic pollution, and in 2013 Côte d’Ivoire issued a decree banning the production, import, marketing, possession, and use of plastic bags. Businesses have been supported in the switch to reusable and biodegradable packaging, said Mr. Jean-Luc Assi, Côte d’Ivoire’s minister of environment and sustainable development.

World Environment Day highlights urgent challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, said Vivianne Heijnen, Netherlands’ minister for the environment. She said plastic pollution touches on those three challenges, and it is crucial to continue raising awareness, collecting best practices, and ensuring commitment from all stakeholders.

Legislation on Plastic Pollution

Humans produce more than 430 million tons of plastic annually; two-thirds of this comes from temporary products that soon become waste. According to UNEP, the social and economic costs of plastic pollution range from $300 to $600 billion a year. If countries and companies make policy and market shifts using existing technologies, plastic pollution could reduce by 80% by 2040, according to a recent UNEP report called Turning off the Tap.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) chair was given the mandate to prepare a zero draft of an international, legally binding agreement on plastic pollution – including in the marine environment – at the second session of the INC on plastic pollution in Paris. The third session of the INC will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2023.

This second negotiation meeting for the UN Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution (INC-2) involved multiple leading companies from across the value chain, including the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, which voiced their support for legally binding, global rules and measures to drive worldwide change.

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), out of around 180 states in attendance at the talks, 135 states are now calling for binding global rules that apply to all countries equally, rather than a voluntary agreement where governments can pick and choose actions. In addition to this, 94 states have called for the treaty to prioritize phase-outs or bans of problematic chemicals, polymers, and high-risk plastic products.

At the 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in February 2022, the 5-14 resolution was adopted to develop an international, legally binding instrument on plastic pollution – including in the marine environment – with negotiations to be completed by the end of 2024. The instrument will be based on a broad approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic.

A memorandum of understanding, aligned with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was announced by The International Air Transport Association and UNEP to address challenges to sustainability in the aviation industry. The partnership will initially focus on the reduction of single-use plastic products and improving the circularity in the use of plastics by the aviation industry.

Under the leadership of UNEP, representatives of the government in Panama, with UN offices at the regional and national levels and civil society, committed to reducing plastic waste in their offices and communities.

Along with this, new industry guidelines have been released by the Kenya Plastics Pacts on recyclability for plastic packaging. These guidelines will provide clear recommendations on how to design plastic packaging to be compatible with future recycling infrastructure.

Many more companies, organizations, and individuals contributed to making environmental changes on World Environment Day. More than 50,000 people downloaded UNEP’s Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide. Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, urged the world to join the global movement and end plastic pollution for the sake of the planet’s health, and for the sake of our health and prosperity.

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