Following the United Nations’ decision last month to adopt a global and legally-binding treaty by 2024 to end plastic pollution, and with governmental negotiations on the agreement slated to begin soon, an international group of scientific experts is arguing that such a treaty must cap production of new plastics from fresh feedstocks, and phase them out in the long-term.
‘Even when applying all political and technological solutions available today, including substitution, improved recycling, waste management, and circularity, annual plastic emissions to the environment can only be cut by 79% over 20 years,’ the scientists from the UK, US, Canada, Germany, India, Norway, Sweden and Turkey wrote in a letter in Science magazine.
After 2040, they note, 17.3 million tons of plastic waste will continue to be released to the environment every year. ‘To fully prevent plastic pollution, the path forward must include a phaseout of virgin plastic production by 2040,’ the experts conclude. One unrelated benefit, they say, is that this would increase the value of recycled plastics.
The letter was borne from a discussion by scientific colleagues on Twitter about the treaty and what it would really take to end plastic pollution worldwide, according to Martin Wagner, an ecotoxicologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and one of its signatories. He says those involved in the online conversation examined modelling scenarios in the scientific literature, and they found that ending plastic pollution requires a dramatic change on the supply side.
‘There will be quite tough negotiations, there are many interests at stake here – there will be a lot of pressure from environmental activists, but even more from the plastics industry,’ he tells Chemistry World. ‘We want the negotiations about this treaty to be informed by the science that is out there on plastic pollution.’
M Bergman et al, Science, 2022 (DOI: 10.1126/science.abq0082)