In Nairobi this month, the world’s governments will discuss the path towards the first global treaty to tackle plastic pollution. But with multiple proposals on the table, the scope and ambition of a future treaty hangs in the balance.
The UN Environment Assembly, is scheduled for 28 February to 2 March in the Kenyan capital. This could deliver a mandate for an intergovernmental negotiating committee to broker an agreement obliging all countries to eliminate plastic leakage. This especially includes the ocean, through national targets and plans for reduction, recycling and management.
There’s an incomprehensible amount of plastic in the ocean – up to 51 trillion fragments in surface waters alone. Marine plastic pollution harms animals, which ingest or become entangled in it, while the risk to humans who eat seafood contaminated with it is still unknown.
Much of the plastic entering the sea comes from rivers. In 2017, a report found that up to 95% was coming from just 10 river systems, with eight of these in Asia. A lot of this stems from developed nations, who have exported it to developing countries to recycle or dispose of. In 2018, China banned “foreign garbage” after years of importing almost half of the world’s plastic waste.
As well as large accumulations of floating plastic, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It covers an area three times the size of France, scientists are concerned about microplastics of less than 5mm. These have been found everywhere from the remote Antarctic to the deepest ocean trench.