World vows to end plastic pollution, but no target agreed

This week, world leaders make unprecedented pledge at the UN to end pollution in all its forms, though they did not set any target or binding action. 

For the first time at the UN Environment Assembly, world leaders signed resolutions to clean up our air, land and water.

Increasing production and consumption patterns are undermining the health of the people and the environment, UN member states recognised.

The assembly put particular emphasis on plastic pollution and marine litter, urging governments to implement measures to avoid the use of throwaway plastic such as bottles and other packaging.

“If current pollution rates continue, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050,” said the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which organised the meeting.

Eight million tonnes of plastic – bottles, packaging and other waste – are dumped into the ocean every year, destroying entire ecosystems and entering the human food chain, UNEP added.

In Europe, according to a recent report by Sea at Risk, throwaway plastic items such as bottles and coffee cups are responsible for half of the beach litter.

Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez, President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly, warned that policy makers have very little room to make more mistakes. He said:

“With the promises made here, we are sending a powerful message that we will listen to the science, change the way we consume and produce, and tackle pollution in all its forms across the globe.”

NGOs welcomed the resolutions, but warned that policy-makers need to adopt legally-binding targets and a timetable to phase out unnecessary plastic if they are serious about delivering on their promises.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a member of the Rethink Plastic campaign in Europe, urged governments to implement binding measures to transition to circular economy, where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled.

From Nairobi, where he attended the event, Piotr Barczak of the EEB said that

“Plastic pollution is relatively new on the UN agenda, but the hope is that one day we’ll have a Paris Agreement to end the use of unnecessary plastic and boost reuse and recycling instead.

David Azoulay, Senior Attorney at CIEL said: “Today, countries took an important step that could be the tipping point in the battle against plastic pollution. The open-ended expert group now has the responsibility to deliver an action plan that addresses the urgency of the plastics crisis.”

All eyes are on Europe now. European Environment Commissioner Karmelu Vella told his audience in Nairobi that the EU will release a plastic strategy at the beginning of next year, adding that it will be an inspiration for economies around the world.

Delphine Lévi Alvarès of Zero Waste Europe, which coordinates the Rethink Plastic campaign, said that

the EU strategy on plastics is a key opportunity to tackle plastic pollution at source by reducing our plastic footprint, redesigning products to make them circular, and ensuring better plastic waste management. To achieve this ambition, reduction targets for single-use plastics are key.”