Plastic bag floating in the ocean with seaweed

UK signs legally binding global treaty to tackle plastic pollution

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK has signed a legally binding UN treaty during talks in Nairobi designed to end plastic pollution.

While the terms of the treaty are still to be negotiated, it could include measures that promote sustainable production and consumption of plastics, as well as more environmentally sound waste management.

It is also hoped the treaty will help to tackle marine plastic pollution; it’s predicted that unless action is taken there will be a threefold increase in the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean between 2016 and 2040.

The new treaty follows a survey from WWF last month that found that nearly 90 per cent of people supported such a deal. The Ipsos poll of over 20,000 adults across 28 countries also found that three-quarters of respondents supported a total ban on single-use plastics.

The UK’s new Environment Act gives the government new powers to tackle plastic pollution. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has also committed to introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers in efforts to boost the recycling of plastic bottles.

However, while the scheme was first announced in 2018, it is not expected to come into force until 2024 at the earliest in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 2023 in Scotland.

At the Nairobi conference, attended by former London Mayor candidate Lord Zac Goldsmith, the UK also supported the establishment of an intergovernmental Science Policy Panel to assess current plastic issues and facilitate communication between scientists and policy makers.

“This agreement by governments at UNEA is truly historic and I’m so proud that the UK co-sponsored the proposals and helped get them over the line,” Goldsmith said.

“In the space of just one human lifetime, we have caused unimaginable damage to the global environment, choking every single part of the global ocean with plastic pollution. And although there is much to be done now to turn it into an ambitious and far-reaching treaty, we can now begin to close this ugly chapter. I am so grateful to UK negotiators for their fantastic work securing agreement this week.”

Espen Barth Eide, President of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), said: “We’re making history today and you should all be proud. Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution we are officially on track for a cure.”

Any terms that put restrictions on plastic production, use or design would affect oil and chemicals companies that make raw plastic, as well as consumer goods giants that sell thousands of products in single-use packaging.

It would also affect the economies of major plastic-producing countries, including the United States, China, India, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

The plans have received considerable support from the private and third sectors (non-governmental and non-profit-making organisations) with 111 entities having signed 'The Business Call for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution', including FMCG giants Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, P&G and Unilever.

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