The development of a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution is an incredible opportunity to bring about systemic, wide-ranging change on plastics and waste.
Between 2000 and 2019, plastic waste generation more than doubled.1 Today, half of all plastic is designed to be used just once before being discarded.2 And yet around 2 billion people living in our world’s poorest communities don’t have access to solid waste collection. They have little other option but to burn or dump it.3
The results are wide-ranging and extremely harmful. Plastic pollution is directly impacting the achievement of over half of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and making poverty worse. It is also contributing directly to the climate emergency through plastics production and emissions from the burning of plastic waste.4
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbours, to care for the poor, and to steward God’s creation. When we understand the impact plastic pollution is having on our world’s most vulnerable people and the earth that sustains us all, we must respond.
We must take responsibility to protect the God-created earth, and develop policies to preserve it.
In March 2022, at the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, world leaders, environment ministers and other representatives from 173 nations agreed to develop a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution. It’s a decision that has been described as the most important multilateral environment deal since the Paris Climate Accord in 2015.5
An intergovernmental negotiating committee has been tasked with drafting and ratifying the Treaty. Negotiations will take place over five rounds. The first was in November 2022 in Uruguay and the second is scheduled to take place in Paris in May 2023. The aim is to complete the process by the end of 2024 but already it is clear that negotiations will be incredibly complex with a number of nations and lobby groups pushing for a watered down result.
The UN decision to develop a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution presents an incredible opportunity to bring about systemic, wide-ranging change on plastics and waste, to accelerate progress towards successful delivery of the SDGs and ultimately to bring about real change for people living in poverty.
Encouragingly, Australia has joined the High Ambition Coalition of 20 nations including the UK, Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand that aims to deliver an agreement banning plastic pollution that is legally binding and addresses the full life cycle of plastic pollution.6
However, there is work to do to ensure a human rights based lens is brought to the Treaty negotiations. In particular, as we seek to decrease the production of plastics, increase collection and recycling and move towards a circular economy, we must ensure a just transition for workers in the informal waste sector and communities in low- and middle-income countries who depend on plastic for their livelihoods.
The treaty negotiations offer a unique opportunity for Christians all over the world to speak up and to demonstrate our love for our neighbours and our care for God’s creation.
By coming together in prayer and action as a global movement of Christians, we can be a powerful force for change. We can amplify the voices of those most severely affected by plastic pollution and press global leaders to commit to a treaty that ends this issue for people living in poverty.
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1. OECD (2022) Global Plastics Outlook 2022. Global plastics production doubled between 2000 and 2019 to reach 460 million tonnes. Global plastic waste generation more than doubled between 2000 and 2019 to 353 million tonnes. Nearly two-thirds of plastic waste comes from plastics with lifetimes of under five years.
2. euractiv.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/06/WED-REPORT-SINGLE-USE-PLASTICS.pdf. The stat is referring to nearly 50% of plastic generated being ‘plastic packaging’, which is single-use
3. UNEP/ISWA (2015) Global Waste Management Outlook, p271. unep.org/resources/report/global-waste-management-outlook
4. Tearfund - No Time To Waste
5. “Nations Sign up to End Global Scourge of Plastic Pollution.” UN News, 2 March, 2022
6. Foley, “Australia Joins Call for Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution.” Sydney Morning Herald.