NGO says global plastic pollution treaty an urgent necessity

By Giovanna Ferullo M.

Panama City, Feb 23 (EFE).- The world’s oceans have become giant dumping grounds for plastic waste.

The notion of recycling as a panacea has proved to be a mirage, and it is now clear that persistent plastic debris is a complex problem that requires coordinated global solutions, according to the MarViva Foundation, a non-governmental organization that promotes the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

“There’s an urgent need to discuss a new international treaty on plastic pollution that encompasses the entire planet. Since the dynamics of the problem are global, the solutions must be global and coordinated at different levels,” Alberto Quesada, the regional marine pollution coordinator for that organization based in Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia, told Efe.

Management of plastic waste is one of the main topics to be addressed in the upcoming fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5), which will kick off on Feb. 28 in Nairobi, Kenya.

European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius said weeks ago that 140 countries are now in favor of global regulation on curbing plastic pollution and half of them are willing to support binding measures.

That senior official noted, however, that although there is ample support for battling plastic pollution in principle, the devil is in the details.

The expectations of environmentalists are clear.

“In UNEA 5, we expect the countries to issue a resolution based on the proposal by Peru and Rwanda to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee with a mandate to negotiate a new (legally binding) international treaty on plastic pollution within two years,” the MarViva spokesman said, adding that “whether or not it’ll be binding is under discussion.”

The idea is for that agreement to tackle plastic pollution across the full life cycle of plastics – from preventive measures in the upstream part of the life cycle to downstream ones addressing waste management – with the aim of preventing plastic pollution in marine and other environments.

There are currently around 200 million tons of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, and that figure will triple by 2040 in the absence of a “significant paradigm shift,” Quesada said.

The World Wide Fund for Nature, meanwhile, said in a recent report that plastic pollution “is now found everywhere in the ocean,” adding that it is nearly impossible to remove and continuously breaks down into smaller substances.

“Even if all plastic pollution inputs into the ocean were to stop today, this process of degradation means the mass of microplastics in oceans and beaches will more than double between 2020 and 2050,” the WWF said.

It noted in that report that observable effects of interactions with plastics were studied for 297 marine species, 88 percent of which were considered to be adversely affected.

And that plastic waste does not stay in the ocean.

“Any study of fishing products reveals that they contain plastic. Human beings are ingesting plastic particles,” the MarViva expert said.

The health impacts of that consumption remain unknown, but it is believed to be potentially very harmful, the WWF’s global plastics policy director, Eirik Lindebjerg, recently told Efe in Geneva.

Plastics also make the carbon excreted by phytoplankton more buoyant, causing it to sink more slowly and allowing it more time to escape back into the atmosphere, thereby impeding the ability of the ocean to act as a natural carbon sink, according to Tatiana Lujan, the lead plastics lawyer for ClientEarth, an organization of environmental attorneys.

To date, most initiatives to combat plastic pollution have been voluntary and have revolved around recovery and recycling.

“Plastic recycling is not technically simple. It’s quite costly, and many (plastics) are not even recyclable,” Quesada said, adding that “the voluntary initiatives promoted by companies have not been effective or efficient.”

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