With a deadline looming, countries are racing for a global agreement to reduce plastic waste

Volunteers clean up plastic waste on a beach in Peru.


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Volunteers clean up plastic waste on a beach in Peru.


Negotiators from 170 countries are close to agreement on a global treaty to reduce plastic waste, according to a United Nations official at the latest round of talks. But environmentalists say the plastics industry is still standing in the way of an effective deal.

After a week of talks in Canada, negotiators have a “clear path to an ambitious agreement” on plastic pollution in a final round of negotiations in South Korea in November, said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program, in a statement. .

“The work, however, is far from over,” he added. “The plastic pollution crisis continues to engulf the world and we are just months away from the agreed 2022 end-of-year deadline.”

Environmental groups after the talks say some countries continue to block a crucial measure – a global cap on the production of new plastic – which researchers say is essential to curbing pollution.

“This process must begin with a global reduction in production, immediately eliminating single-use plastics, recognizing that recycling has not worked and will not work,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation. in a statement.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels, and major oil and natural gas producers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia have been widely criticized for putting up obstacles in negotiations to protect future profits. However, scientists and environmentalists say the United States also bears much of the blame. The country is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, and has the world’s largest economy, which has historically given the US great leverage in environmental negotiations.

Critics say U.S. negotiators have been unwilling to push for a global cap on plastic production and are instead throwing their weight behind measures like recycling favored by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries in the U.S. country

“The United States needs to stop pretending to be a leader and own up to the failure it has created here,” Carroll Muffett, executive director of the International Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told NPR that so-called aftermarket measures like recycling and waste management alone won’t solve the problem of plastic pollution, and that the country is looking at ways to reduce the demand for new plastic.

Erin Simon, head of plastic waste and business at the World Wildlife Fund who attended the talks in Canada, says the US and many other countries are showing more willingness to try to compromise.

“I saw countries brainstorming,” says Simon. “I saw them trying to find creative solutions to meet everybody’s needs as best they could. I saw them giving things away. It’s the messy part of the process that you want to see.”

The State Department has said that for an agreement to be effective, it must have the support of all countries, including nations that are major producers of fossil fuels and plastics.

More than 50 countries now say they want an agreement that includes targets to reduce plastic production, according to the Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives (GAIA), an environmental justice group. French officials said the rich countries of the Group of Seven (G7), which include the US, are “committed to reducing global production”.

The State Department previously told NPR that countries should be free to try to limit the supply of new plastic. Many nations want to do this with limits on manufacturing.

“The drumbeat to reduce plastic production is growing from countries around the world,” Ana Rocha, director of global plastics policy at GAIA, said in a statement. “More and more leaders are waking up to what science and our lived experiences are telling us: plastic is pollution and we need to stop it where it starts.”

Meanwhile, the plastics industry is ramping up its efforts to influence the talks. The number of lobbyists from the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries who registered to attend negotiations in Canada increased by 37% from the previous round of talks in Kenya in late 2023, according to an analysis by the Environmental Law Center international

“The outcome of these talks is of critical importance to countries and communities around the world, and it is vital to expose and confront the role of corporations whose agendas are fundamentally in conflict with the global public interest “, Delphine Lvi Alvars, global petrochemical campaign. director of the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a statement.

Matt Seaholm, chief executive of the Plastics Industry Association, pushed back against efforts to “exclude the industry from participation” in the negotiations.

“Our industry welcomes an open process and actively seeks compromise through these negotiations because we want to see achievable environmental goals and are committed to working together to achieve them,” Seaholm said in a statement to NPR .

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