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Revolutionizing our Relationship with Plastic



Remember the three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) to help the planet? Well, the time is now to revolutionize our relationship with plastic to address the three Ps: the Proliferation of Plastic Pollution. 

 

The Plastic Problem:
 

Plastic is everywhere – from our oceans and streams to our very own bloodstreams. In 2019, annual plastic production totaled 460 million metric tons (MT), representing over 2.24 Gigatons (GT) CO2 emissions (~5% of planet-warming emissions). At a current expected production growth rate of 2.5%/year, this could more than double and grow to 20% of emissions by 2050, according to a report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Since 1950 more than 8.3 GT of plastic have been produced, most of which ends up in landfills or in the environment (air, land and water) where it has harmful effects on wildlife, ecosystems and human health. So, while plastic is incredibly durable and versatile (making it such an essential part of our economy), it has an outsized negative impact on carbon emissions, environmental degradation and species health (including humans).

 

As the proliferation of plastic pollution continues to plague people and our planet, there is some cause for optimism as the world becomes aware of the ongoing dangers and attempts to remedy them.

 

The emerging #PlasticsTreaty will be the first global binding agreement on plastics with a focus on “refill, reuse and repeat”. It seeks to address the full life cycle of plastics, helping protect nature, human health, climate and help create jobs.

 

Following the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (#INC4) on plastic pollution in Ottawa last month, we are starting to see a clearer pathway to this ambitious Plastics Treaty that aims to be finalized at the fifth session (#INC5) in Busan this November. 


While some celebrated progress, others were left disappointed.

  

In this article: 

 


What you need to know about INC-4: 

The purpose:

to negotiate the Revised Draft Text of an international, legally binding plastic pollution instrument, including in the marine environment. 

The differentiator:

INC-4 was the most inclusive session to date with more than 2,500 delegates including 170 Member States, 480 Observer Organizations, around 200 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists, as well as the voices of waste pickers who prevent the burning and piling up of plastics by collecting, sorting, recycling, and selling them. 

The process:

the process of treaty negotiations included some Members who support majority voting and others who advocate for consensus voting with country vetoing powers. 

The big topic: 

where in the plastic life cycle should regulations and targets be focused: 

  1. Plastic production: Countries like Peru and Rwanda have led an effort to include targeted reductions in plastic production reduction which is also supported by many developing countries. Most of the developed world and especially oil producing countries are opposed to any such measure. They see a world where fossil fuel demand will already be reduced in transportation and power generation sectors, so plastic production growth is critical for their economies.  

  2. Plastic use: Single use plastics represent ~50% of all plastic production. 56 global companies account for 50% of branded plastic pollution with 5 companies accounting for just under 25% of global totals, including Coca-Cola (11% of global total), Pepsi (5%), Nestle (3%), Danone (3%) and Altria (3%).  Substitutes for many common single-use plastic products (e.g. fruit and vegetables containers) are limited in circulation and have other limitations such as higher costs, less durability or are more energy intensive to produce. Meanwhile recycling plastic is complex, expensive and limited in usefulness. Globally, less than 10% of plastic is recycled and that number has been constant for over 2 decades.

  3. Improve plastic waste management: Solutions to process plastic waste completely to avoid pollution and corresponding health impacts are still in early stages of development and will take a long time before reaching any level of scale necessary.   

Other topics and cross-cutting issues:

Underlying these various opinions on where to attack the plastic problem are fundamental issues like, where does the financing come from to create recycling or reuse infrastructure in the developed world, the impact on waste pickers, and what regulations government should enforce to change consumer behavior. 

INC-4 outcomes: 

  • INC Members agreed to intersessional work between now and INC-5 to catalyze convergence on key issues, such as means of financing and implementing the treaty, expert discussions on chemicals and products of concern, and product design.  

  • The production of new plastic, however, will not be discussed in these intersessional working groups... hence where some of the disappointment lies. 

  • The Revised Document has been somewhat streamlined, though the intersessional working groups will not include textual negotiations. 


What to expect at INC-5 in November 2024 in Busan:

  • INC Members will create an Open-ended Legal Drafting Group

  • INC Members will aim to deliver on their mandates and agree to a final treaty text of implementation.



Key Takeaways:
 
  • Just having this much global representation and a commitment to finalize a treaty which will lead to Plastic COPs (Conference of the Parties) where nations discuss progress toward global goals like they do for climate and biodiversity is a great start to address this oft-neglected problem

  • Many nations have already taken steps (and more will once the treaty is finalized) to set internal targets to reduce their plastic impact in some part of the plastic life cycle. The EU has already proposed limits on single-use plastic for many common items as a first step toward behavior change and overall plastic use reductions. 

  • The resistance to mandatory limits on plastic production is disappointing in many ways as it would be a critical, immediate step to slow the pace of pollution by cutting off the source. However, to keep things in perspective, it took 28 Climate COPs before last year’s resolution to include any mention of curbing fossil fuel production.  Given that relative comparison, to already be discussing plastic production before the 1st COP is a good sign

  • If we consider the entire plastic life cycle, and all the facts outlined above, we see that the source of plastic (production) will not be restricted, recycling will likely not grow much if at all beyond the 10% today, and plastic substitutes and waste management solutions still have a long way to go to scale cost effectively before making any impact.  Therefore, the easiest solution to scale today is reuse (and refill). This does not require any new technologies, can address the biggest source of plastic - single-use plastics - head-on, is not contentious to either the oil producing countries or developing countries, and can lead to improved health and livelihoods for waste pickers. All it takes is behavioral change. A combination of regulations and financial incentives can help facilitate that.

 

Solutions revolutionizing the way we consume exist today
  

While the emerging Plastics Treaty advances, we don’t have to wait! Solutions already exist and are scaling.  One example is our partners at Algramo.  Algramo is addressing single-use plastic waste with a systems solution that revolutionizes our consumption habits to Refill, Reuse and Repeat that eliminates single-use plastics and helps us transition to a circular economy.  Algramo’s refill/reuse consumption model makes circularity accessible and fun for consumers; convenient for multiple brands and retailers to implement; and, cost-effective for brands and consumers.

 

Imagine leaving your home (with only your phone in hand and a reusable bag) to enjoy a coffee at your favorite café, a drink at a music festival, a beverage from a vending machine at your office, university or local hospital, or to purchase household cleaning products at your grocery store.  Sounds pretty standard, right?  What if all these purchases were made with an Algramo app, reusable and returnable smart cups/containers, and that you only paid for the product and not the plastic? Well, it’s possible and it’s happening.

Check it out: https://algramo.com/en/ 


Let’s not waste any more time. Let’s revolutionize our relationship with plastic and #BeatPlasticPollution

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