With little fanfare, the world’s countries are deciding the future of plastic

This year, Earth Day marks the start of the fourth round of negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty. Without much public fanfare, delegates from 175 countries, along with hundreds of observers representing industry, academia, health organizations and environmental groups, will meet in Ottawa to chart a course for the future of plastics and plastic pollution.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Plastics have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, lung disease and birth defects. Recently, researchers found that people with heart disease whose tissues contained microplastics – the tiny particles found in our environment – ​​were twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke or death within three years. Babies are particularly at risk because of their increased exposure to plastic and their vulnerability.

Susan Bass is senior vice president of programs and operations at  (courtesy of Susan Bass)
Susan Bass is senior vice president of programs and operations at (courtesy of Susan Bass)

People are not the only ones at risk; It is estimated that more than a million marine animals are killed every year by plastic in waste. Eleven million tons of plastic waste flows into the ocean every year. The WHO report ‘Tobacco: Poisoning our Planet’ describes the significant risks posed by the 4.5 trillion cigarette butts thrown away every year. Cellulose acetate-based cigarette filters do not degrade and remain harmful to the environment as microplastics circulate in our marine and freshwater systems. They also emit nicotine, heavy metals and other chemicals that threaten not only coastal fishing communities but also those who consume seafood products.

Furthermore, plastics are undeniably fueling the climate change crisis.

More than 90% of plastics are produced from fossil fuels, and 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions are generated related to the production, conversion and waste management of plastics. And plastic-related emissions are expected to more than double by 2060. Because low-income and communities of color are disproportionately located near petrochemical plants, as well as plastic production and waste incinerators, they are particularly at risk from harmful environmental and health impacts. .

The expectation is that the scale of the problem will only increase. Experts predict that global production of thermoplastics will increase to 445.25 million tons by 2025 and continue to rise by more than 30% by 2050. And despite increasing government bans and regulation of single-use plastics, there was an annual increase between 2019 and 2021. of 6.6 million tons per year of single-use plastic production.

Contrary to decades of industry promotion, recycling is not the answer to the plastic challenge. According to a comprehensive analysis by Greenpeace, “the vast majority of U.S. plastic waste is still unrecyclable,” even though the industry has encouraged recycling since the 1990s. The report further finds a decline in the recycling rate in the US, from 9.5% in 2014 to 5-6% in 2021. Even new recycling technologies, such as chemical recycling, can create toxic emissions and hazardous waste.

The Global Plastics Treaty negotiations provide an opportunity to chart a sustainable course for our planet. We are at the crossroads of progressing a treaty that will call for significant reductions not only in single-use plastics, but also reduce the total amount of plastics produced and demand full transparency in the industry.

So far, the prospects for a strong treaty are uncertain at best. As member states of the High Ambition Coalition push for the reduction and elimination of problematic plastics, as well as reporting and transparency provisions to ensure accountability through the value chain, the so-called ‘Like Minded Group’, which represents many fossil fuel countries, is advocating for a focus on waste management instead of production restrictions. And despite a letter from six senators and more than a dozen members of the House of Representatives calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to negotiate “the strongest possible agreement,” including binding plastic production limits, details of the potential remain influential US position secret – ironic when the government touts its leadership in tackling climate change and promoting environmental justice.

To turn the political tide in Ottawa, we must learn a lesson from the first Earth Day, when grassroots activism in the form of twenty million people from all walks of life taking to the streets led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency Agency and the first to generate environmental laws. Today, with countless media and communications technologies and platforms available to share your voice (#PlanetvsPlastics #EndPlastics #EarthDay #GlobalPlasticsTreaty), it is time to demand that our elected leaders make a treaty that will free us and our planet from the scourge of plastic and plastic pollution.

Susan Bass is senior vice president of programs and operations at