Opinion | How to end plastic pollution on Earth for good

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Journalist Tatiana Schlossberg is the author ofInvisible Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Didn’t Know You Had“And he writes the newspaper.”News from a changing planetHe said.

Someday, if future intelligent life forms prove human existence in the 20th and 21st centuries, they should easily find us in the geological record. Just look for plastic.

Human beings were created between 1950 and 2021 About 11 billion metric tons of virgin plastic – That’s the weight of 110,000 US aircraft carriers. Of this, only 2 billion tons have been used. The rest — 8.7 billion tons — is waste — 71 percent of which ends up in landfills or elsewhere in the environment. including the ocean; 12 percent is recycled; 17 percent burned. At the rate we’re going, global plastic waste will increase by 60 percent by 2050.

But now there is hope that it will be possible to stop the accumulation: last year, more than 175 countries It agreed to develop a legally binding international agreement. In the year Ending plastic pollution by 2040 may actually be possible, according to new research: By combining nine policies, countries could reduce annual plastic waste by more than 87 percent.

(University of California, Santa Barbara, University of California, Berkeley)

Global plastic waste;

3.2 billion tons

From 2010 to 2050

Fig

(University of California, Santa Barbara, University of California, Berkeley)

Global plastic waste;

3.2 billion tons

From 2010 to 2050

Fig

(University of California, Santa Barbara, University of California, Berkeley)

Global plastic waste;

3.2 billion tons

From 2010 to 2050

As things stand, from 2010 to 2050 alone, the world will be able to generate enough to cover all of Manhattan in a pile of plastic more than two miles high.

A less ambitious deal could include a 30 percent reduction in single-use packaging and 20 percent less recycling. Along with other policies, such an agreement could reduce plastic waste by 16 percent.

A more ambitious deal could call for a 90 percent reduction in single-use packaging and a 40 percent lower recycling obligation, cutting plastic waste in half.

Some of these policies will have more impact than others, especially if negotiators have large interests. Choosing the right policies will ultimately determine whether the agreement is effective. Here are some of the most effective policies, based on data collected from scientists at the University of California:

Some people argue that banning single-use items – plastic bags, straws or polystyrene packaging – may not be the most effective solution, even though these plastics make up a disproportionately large share of plastic waste in rivers and oceans. Banning polystyrene alone will reduce plastic waste by 500,000 tons by 2050. Compared to other polymers such as single-use plastics such as polypropylene, the ban could reduce pollution by 13.7 million tonnes. But such bans, as useful as they are, don’t move the needle as much as other measures.

And it is important to move the needle. Plastic waste threatens ecosystem health, biodiversity and efforts to combat climate change, and is a health risk and environmental-justice issue. Microplastics have been found in Breast milk And In our blood. Around the world, up to 60 percent of recycled plastic is recycled Collected by garbage collectorsOften members of poor and marginalized communities suffer from burning plastic and drinking water heavily contaminated with microplastics.

A climate activist stands next to a rubber plantation before the third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiations Committee in Nairobi on November 11.
A climate activist stands next to a plastic plant ahead of the third Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting in Nairobi on November 11.

Monica Medina, assistant secretary of state for oceans and global environmental and scientific affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: “The more plastic we make, the more we end up in our bodies — the more we’re polluting ourselves.” President Biden has participated in previous international negotiations.

The UN negotiators met in Nairobi to finalize the agreement by the end of next year, according to non-governmental organizations. .

United States, which It creates more plastic waste More than any other country, it has the responsibility and opportunity to lead the world in the right direction. Navigating legal vagaries and facing the powerful fossil fuel industry won’t be easy, but this is a rare opportunity. We know that if we do nothing, we will bury ourselves under a mountain of plastic. But if we try, we can rewrite the geological record of our planet. We can stop plastic pollution on earth.



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