A team of scientists working in the field of plastics published a letter in the journal Science, appealing to stop the production of plastics to solve the problem of pollution caused by it.
They argue that plastic is not only a problem when it comes to disposing of it but also at the production level it generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, thus contributing to the climate crisis.
Earlier this year, several countries agreed on the need for a global treaty to stop plastic pollution, but its terms have not yet been decided.
Negotiations for the first draft of the agreement will begin next month.
In a letter published in the journal Science, an international group of scientists called for the creation of a limit on the global production of new plastics to safeguard the health of both humans and the environment and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They say this would be a key action to solve the plastic pollution problem our planet is facing right now.
In March 2022, 175 countries unanimously agreed to adopt a global treaty to stop plastic pollution. The treaty should address not only the problem of waste but also the life cycle of plastics, starting from the extraction of chemicals to the highly polluting process of cracking chemicals to obtain the compounds used in the production of plastics. However, the terms of this treaty are yet to be determined during negotiations starting next month.
“The resolution exists, but it will take years for the treaty to be adopted … and implemented with the necessary responsibility,” Bethanie Carney Almroth, an ecotoxicologist, and researcher on microplastics at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden told Mongabay in an email. . “The problems of plastics are complex and will require multifaceted and specific solutions to each product and context, in order to guarantee safety and fairness”.
The letter notes that 450 million tons of plastic are currently produced annually and that this production is expected to double by 2045. Plastic production is known to create large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions – in the United States alone, yes. estimates that the plastics industry adds 232 million tons of greenhouse gases annually and that these emissions could exceed those caused by the use of coal by 2030. The scientists also say in the letter that the ever-growing problem needs to be addressed of plastic waste, especially considering that most of them are currently exported from the north of the world to the south of the world.
A recent study in Science suggested that plastics production could be down 80% over the next 20 years if all possible solutions are put into practice, including replacing plastics with other materials and improving recycling and waste management. Even so, according to this study, approximately 710 million tons of plastic waste will enter both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
“Even if we were able to recycle it and manage the waste as best we could, we would be releasing more than 17 million tonnes of plastic per year into nature,” said Melanie Bergmann, an expert in microplastics and plastic pollution at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. , as well as a promoter of the letter. “If production continues to grow indefinitely, we will be faced with a real Sisyphean fatigue”.
“The figures speak for themselves,” he added. “Only measures that go to the root of the problem, such as a cap on the production of new plastics, can prevent further damage to the ecosystems that support us. At the same time, they will help us reduce the ecological footprint of plastics, which represents 4.5% of global CO2 emissions ”.
Plastic has become one of the most polluting substances in the world, but there are approximately 350,000 other types of human-made chemicals and synthetic pollutants – collectively known as ” new entities ” – circulating around the world. The speed with which both plastics and these other new entities are produced, and the poor understanding of the risks they entail, led researchers to state in a recent study that we have passed a “planetary limit” for chemical pollution, thus putting the stability of the Earth and humanity’s place on it are in danger.
“The exponential growth of new plastic production is the main cause of the problem and the quantities of plastic we have produced so far have already exceeded the planet’s limits,” said Carney Almroth. “If we do not address this problem, all other measures will fail to substantially reduce the release of plastic into the environment.”
The authors of the letter argue that to really address the problem, it is essential to stop the production of new plastic. Otherwise, they say, “there will be a greater dependence on imperfect and insufficient strategies”.
Susanne Brander, co-author of the letter and ecotoxicologist at the University of the State of Oregon, said that proper regulation of plastics could become “a portal to more effective regulation of the general production of synthetic chemicals.”
He added that “giving priority to the health of our planet and humanity with a binding global agreement that limits the production of plastic, while recognizing that it is not and has never been possible to completely eliminate pollutants, would be a fundamental step towards a more sustainable for all of us “.