Earlier this week, the United Nations Environment Programme (doesn’t everything just look better with British spelling!) announced that 175 nations had approved a resolution titled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument.” If the ambition of the resolution wasn’t clear from the title, perhaps this quote from the UNEP press release will make it so.
Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics.
Time will tell if that’s really the case, but I can’t complain about the ambition; the scope of the plastics problem demands such ambition. If there’s bandwith to address any environmental problem other than climate change, plastics have to be it. And given that plastics are the source of a nontrivial amount of GHG emissions, addressing plastics can help address climate change as well.
The resolution calls for negotiation of the “instrument” by the end of 2024. It’s not going to be easy. The list of 19 separate items to be addressed by the instrument only demonstrates how much work there is to do. To me, the problem can really be reduced to one significant issue – plastics provide a lot of benefits. Those benefits may be exceeded by their costs; it does appear that that may be the case. It’s certainly true that, in the absence of an international legally binding instrument, those costs are not going to be internalized by the manufacturers, and the amount of plastic waste is only going to increase.
Getting a meaningful “instrument” in place may not be easy, but let’s at least celebrate the resolution and the beginning of the work.