Treaty should help bring plastic menace to an end

Over the years, plastic production has been increasing to a point of becoming a pressing environmental threat. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Following the landmark resolution adopted in march 2022 at UNEA-5 in Nairobi to end plastic pollution, committees and negotiators have continued engagements to foster stronger cooperation and coordinated actions in the environmental agenda towards a legally binding treaty.

In December 2022, delegates, researchers and scientists will meet in Punta del Este, Uruguay, for the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1) meeting of the Plastics Treaty.

Majority of scientists and negotiators have raised concern on the health impacts of contaminated plastics. Thus, they are calling for a plastics treaty that protects human rights, health and environment and that seeks to reduce plastic production.

Every day, we interact with plastics and cannot avoid getting exposed to them. Over the years, plastic production has been increasing to a point of becoming a pressing environmental threat. In addressing plastic crisis, we need to address avoidable exposure to toxic chemicals used during production of plastics.

About 99 per cent of plastics are produced from fossil fuels, thus exacerbating climate change, biodiversity threat and other environmental and health crises. There is lack of clear regulations to protect human health and environment from toxic chemicals used in plastics.

Some of the chemicals have been linked to cancers, damage to the immune system and developmental delays, among other health issues. To make matters worse, the toxic chemicals are released at every phase of plastic cycle from extraction, production, transport, use and disposal.

The International Pollutants Network (IPEN) in a report titled 'An introduction to plastic and toxic chemicals' highlights the health and environmental impacts of plastics. Plastics transport chemicals to every nook and cranny of the world - they bring toxic chemicals to our homes and ultimately our bodies.

The plastic treaty must address environmental injustices that have prevailed in dumping of plastics especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia and protect communities from plastic dumping that threatens the human right to healthy environments.

According to research, more than 2,400 substances used in plastics are 'chemicals of concern', with links to cancer, infertility, impaired intellectual functioning, delays in physical development, and other health conditions. Recycling simply moves chemicals in plastics into new products, exposing more people to toxic chemicals and ends up poisoning the circular economy.

As delegates prepare to meet for the second INC in May, the key consideration should be how to effectively address the whole plastic menace and ensure an end to the toxic recycling of existing plastics to ensure a just transition to a non-toxic circular economy.

Ms Kombo is CEJAD Kenya and IPEN communications Adviser