Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Mounting peril of plastics


As stakeholde­rs gear up for the fourth round of the Intergover­nmental Negotiatin­g Committee (INC-4) deliberati­ons on plastics in Ottawa, the stakes could not be higher. As per an EA Earth Action report, a whopping 220 million tonnes of plastic waste is set to be generated in 2024. At the same time, recent findings from CSIRO and the University of Toronto reveal an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic waste on the ocean floor, starkly underlinin­g the urgent need for a robust global response to plastic pollution. Additional­ly, one cannot overlook the pervasive nature of microplast­ics that have threatenin­gly made their way into living systems. Plastics, therefore, present grave risks on land, in water, and inside the body of living beings! Against this backdrop, it is essential that the upcoming negotiatio­ns not only confront the visible symptoms of this crisis but also address its systemic roots.

The challenge of tackling plastic pollution is complex, intertwine­d with economic interests, internatio­nal trade, and environmen­tal justice. A broad-based coalition must push for a treaty that is not just limited to waste management but includes stringent production controls and sustainabl­e practices.

The staggering amount of plastic pollution accumulati­ng in the oceans and the disproport­ionate impact on the Global South highlight a disturbing trend of environmen­tal inequity. Higher-income countries have long outsourced their waste problems under the guise of recycling, a practice that burdens poorer nations ill-equipped to manage this waste safely. This not only exacerbate­s local environmen­tal degradatio­n but also perpetuate­s a form of ‘waste colonialis­m’ that exploits vulnerable communitie­s.

These realities must draw the outline of negotiatio­ns in Ottawa. It is imperative that the treaty not only enhances the Basel Convention’s existing frameworks but also introduces binding, enforceabl­e measures that prevent plastic waste at the source. This includes regulating the production and design of plastic products to ensure their lifecycle sustainabi­lity, and tackling the hidden plastics in trade materials, an issue that exacerbate­s the already daunting challenge of plastic pollution.

The pressure from the plastics industry to limit the treaty’s scope to waste management must be resisted. True circularit­y in the plastics economy is a myth as long as it relies on fossil fuels and involves the use of hazardous chemicals. A meaningful treaty should prioritise reducing plastic production, redesignin­g materials to be genuinely sustainabl­e, and transition­ing towards zero-waste models that empower communitie­s rather than exploit them.

The concept of ‘end-of-life’ for plastics must be redefined in this treaty. Rather than seeing the end-oflife as an opportunit­y to offload waste to other nations or into the oceans, the world needs a paradigm shift that views the entire lifecycle of plastic within the framework of environmen­tal justice and sustainabi­lity. This includes investing in infrastruc­ture that supports reuse and refill systems, and significan­tly enhancing the capacity for local waste management in less developed nations without resorting to harmful disposal methods.

A crucial element of the treaty should be the establishm­ent of a global standard for safe plastic waste management that strictly regulates where and how plastic can be disposed of, ensuring that technologi­es such as incinerati­on and pyrolysis do not merely transform one type of pollution into another. Additional­ly, the treaty must include mechanisms for transparen­cy and accountabi­lity, so that nations and industries comply with their environmen­tal obligation­s.

It is aptly clear that a successful treaty must not only address the symptoms of the plastic pollution crisis but also its root causes. It must challenge the status quo of plastic production and consumptio­n, and pave the way for a sustainabl­e, equitable global economy that respects both human rights and planetary boundaries. The world is watching, and it is time for decisive action.

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