A treaty to end the plastic age

In March, there was a standing ovation when United Nations member states adopted a landmark resolution to end plastic pollution during the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Governments have agreed to start work on a legally binding global agreement that addresses the full life cycle of plastic and will come into force in 2024. The decision has been called ambitious, revolutionary and historic.

The resolution established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to draft the text of the agreement. Their first meeting will begin on November 28 in Uruguay.

Thinking about the upcoming plastics treaty negotiations makes me oscillate between high hopes and anxiety. I can see how the plastics treaty may finally end the era of disposable plastic. The world has an opportunity to forge an ambitious global treaty on plastics, a solution that can match the scale of this global crisis.

On the other hand, I have seen how the most promising policies can go awry when the interests of big business are threatened. Corporations spend millions blocking, delaying, and undermining legislative efforts and global agreements. At the same time, big brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé are committing to reduce plastic use, but consistently failing to meet their public commitments.

Around the world, regulations on plastics have been enacted, but much remains to be done. Frontline communities are still dealing with plastic pollution in all its forms. The Global South bears the greatest social and environmental costs of beanbag production, waste trade and waste burning.

In the Philippines, one of the largest recipients of plastic waste in the world, our communities disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental degradation caused by plastic pollution. We are at risk because plastic production continues unchecked and companies, in collusion with Big Oil, continue to load us with their disposable packaging that damages our health and the climate just to maximize their profits.

This is why it is essential that the Global Plastics Treaty immediately limit and reduce the total production and use of plastic. Reducing the amount of plastic companies make and use is in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as 99 percent of plastics are made from fossil fuels. Ending the corporate addiction to single-use plastic is a vital step in tackling climate change and protecting communities.

The Global Plastics Treaty we need must stop excessive plastic production, keep oil and gas underground, and incorporate recharge and reuse systems.

We must ensure not only justice, but also a just transition for the most vulnerable affected groups and stakeholders, such as communities fenced off in “sacrifice zones” near plastic production facilities, fishermen and workers across the plastics supply chain.

For this treaty to result in meaningful change, the voices of affected communities, recyclers, and populations displaced by plastic pollution must be heard. Their experiences and knowledge are valuable in ensuring that no one is left behind. More importantly, your authentic and empowered participation in this process is necessary for environmental and climate justice.

Achieving all of this will be challenging, but solving the plastic pollution crisis is indeed doable and key to tackling climate change. The reuse revolution is thriving with scalable solutions from around the world, from reusable cups in convenience stores and refill systems in community stores, to the return of returnable glass bottles in the beverage industry.

Policies like plastic bans and upstream-focused extended producer responsibility measures are paving the way for systemic change at the local and national levels. These are what I call pockets of hope and change.

During the treaty negotiations, we must speak louder than big brands, big oil and the politicians who pander to them. We must ensure that the treaty puts the interests of the people, environmental justice and our climate at the center. The Global Plastics Agreement has the potential to be one of the most important environmental agreements in history, and we must ensure that it does not fall short of its promise.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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