Why we need global unity against plastic threat

Plastic waste. [iStockphoto]

If you did not have a focus at the sixth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) that ended at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi yesterday, you could have been lost in the beauty, splendor, art, fashion, and grandeur.

Yet there was so much to ponder. The UNEA endeavours to make key environmental decisions, especially among its 193 member states, and add to the plans and success of many global, regional and continental efforts.

Two years ago, UNEA-5 resolved to forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024 to tackle the full plastic lifecycle, from production to design and disposal.

In November 2023, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3), with delegates from 170 countries, met in Nairobi to negotiate plans to eradicate global plastic pollution. There have been thousands of efforts to deal with the plastic menace, yet it won’t go away. The UNEP and the World Economic Forum statistics show a continued rise in global plastic production, with over 300 million tonnes produced yearly. A bigger chunk of this harmful plastic is used for packaging.

The most significant contributor to pollution remains single-use plastics. Only a small percentage of plastic waste is recycled globally. A lot of harmful plastic matter ends up in landfills, waterways, and oceans, leading to significant environmental damage, harming marine life, and entering the food chain, same as the micro-plastics, which pollute these same resources and the air that humans, domestic and wildlife creatures breathe.

As delegates gathered in Nairobi for UNEA-6, a coalition of World Trade Organisation members far away released a ministerial statement endorsing more decisive actions to tame harmful plastics impacts. Even here, single-use plastics and plastic packaging stood out, with the team outlining critical role of trade policy in taming the menace.

The threat is massive and at everyone’s door. Even Nairobi, the UNEA host, faces huge environmental threats. What we call rivers in the city are imitations, with some black, and choked by plastic and industrial waste, despite laws and enforcement bodies.

The endless conventions are a sign of crisis and a need to aid the peaceful coexistence of humans and nature, besides sustainable living, as envisioned in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. As nature is diminished, land degrades and many species die, all sorts of pollution worsen situations for poor communities such as those in rural settings, or informal sectors and depend on these same polluting companies for their livelihood.

We must therefore intensify initiatives to reduce single-use plastics, improve waste management systems, increase recycling rates, and promote alternative materials and packaging designs. Nations, and all stakeholders, must have a unity of purpose. The stakeholders, including the unscrupulous business people with an unfettered appetite for profits over human and nature’s good, or the fossil fuel industry that benefits more from plastic production and sale, must play a genuine role in changing focus to alternative and less harmful businesses and replacement to plastic. They must shelve individual interests and contribute to restoring a habitable nature for humans for long healthier lives.

At the same time, political will and adequate financial incentives and tax concessions for those who produce items that promote sustainability through non-plastic items cannot be overlooked. And because there are no borders up in the sky, nations must share and implement cross-border strategies that help end the plastic menace on land, shared water bodies, air, and other resources. The global family must deal with biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution and create space for the climate to stabilise and for nature to recover, for the sake of sustainable economies and societies.

-The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected] | @lynno16

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