Calgary Herald

Full-circle approach to plastics needed

Global agreement a good start, Roger Kearns writes.

- Roger Kearns is the CEO of NOVA Chemicals.

Earth Day, founded in 1970, marked the birth of modern environmen­tal activism. Canada has been a strong supporter of this movement ever since.

Today, Earth Day is a global force that unites people across political, philosophi­cal and geographic­al lines.

As we celebrate this year's Earth Day on April 22, we face one of the most urgent environmen­tal challenges of our time: plastic pollution. Plastics are essential for many aspects of our daily lives, so we cannot simply eliminate them. What we need is a collaborat­ive framework that addresses plastic pollution from design to disposal.

We believe that the United Nations' Intergover­nmental Negotiatin­g Committee (INC) meetings, which aim to create a binding agreement to combat plastic pollution by the end of this year, offer such an opportunit­y.

There is no single solution to this complex problem and we cannot apply a uniform model to every country and context. Rather, we need to involve all stakeholde­rs and take shared responsibi­lity along the entire value chain, by adopting a circular approach that reuses or remakes products instead of throwing them away. To achieve this, we propose the following key principles.

Design for circularit­y: We must make products that are easier to reuse or remake. This is not a simple task, but it is increasing­ly happening. The agreement should promote consistenc­y in product design and performanc­e based on accepted internatio­nal

Plastic pollution is a serious threat that requires immediate action.

standards and encourage sustainabl­e consumptio­n.

Level the playing field: To become “circularit­y ready,” economies need a policy framework that creates incentives for circularit­y. For example, requiring recycled plastic in products would boost demand and investment in recycling. At the same time, we must harmonize policies while respecting geographic and market difference­s in capabiliti­es, infrastruc­ture and existing frameworks. The agreement should support the reduction, reuse, refill and repair of plastic products.

Customize waste collection: The UN estimates that 2.7 billion people lack access to basic waste management, with huge gaps between the global north and south. A universal standard would not work. Instead, we need to establish or improve waste collection and sorting infrastruc­ture that promotes circularit­y. To fund this, we can implement Extended Producer Responsibi­lity (EPR) or similar schemes that use collected fees for waste management. This would enhance recyclabil­ity and promote safe and environmen­tally sound management of plastic products throughout their life cycles.

Enable trade to drive value for circularit­y: Trade is essential to build more environmen­tally sustainabl­e economic developmen­t. The trade-related aspects of the agreement should contribute to global solutions that address plastic pollution, by supporting ongoing efforts under the Basel Convention, the World Trade Organizati­on and World Customs Organizati­on. For countries lacking recycling infrastruc­ture, trade can reduce leakage of plastic into the environmen­t and help enable circularit­y by capturing value from plastic waste that could be recycled. By promoting access, investment, technical assistance and capacity building in waste management and recycling technologi­es, parties — especially developing countries — will be better able to participat­e in trade and benefit from a circular economy.

Plastic pollution is a serious threat that requires immediate action. Plastics are also a valuable resource that we cannot afford to waste.

Like the Earth Day vision, we must work together to achieve this.

By engaging all stakeholde­rs and enhancing circularit­y, we can make progress toward a cleaner and greener future.

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