Why do we need an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution?
Plastic pollution is pervasive. Its sources are numerous. The reach and depth of the contamination of our ocean is horrifying. Microplastics have now been documented in all marine habitats – from the ocean surface and sea ice to the seabed – and are ingested by species throughout the marine food chain. They have been detected in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.
While improvements to waste management are essential, the exponential growth trends in plastic production mean that we cannot recycle our way out of this problem. No recycling system in the world could deal with the sheer volume of plastic currently consumed around the world daily, which inevitably leads to millions of tonnes being landfilled, incinerated and leaking into the natural environment. The only long-term, comprehensive way to address plastic pollution is to address its root cause – turning off this relentless tap of plastic flooding onto the market every day.
Addressing the plastic pollution crisis is beyond the ability of any one country or region or sector, necessarily requiring an international response. No such framework currently exists to coordinate action at a global level, as confirmed by an in-depth review by UN Environment which concluded that “no global agreement exists to specifically prevent marine plastic litter and microplastics or provide a comprehensive approach to managing the lifecycle of plastics.”
As such, political momentum for a new global agreement is growing fast. This is evidenced by several recent high-level regional and ministerial declarations, including: the Nordic Ministerial Declaration,  Caribbean and Community and Common Market (CARICOM) St. Johns Declaration,  The Durban Declaration,  and the new European Union (EU) Circular Economy Action Plan that all call for a legally binding global treaty.
The legislative gap must now be filled, and these aspirations met, by a new legally binding agreement on plastic pollution with power to address the problem at source by putting a cap on plastic production.
 UN Environment, Combating Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastics: An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Relevant International, Regional and Subregional Governance Strategies and Approaches (15 February 2018), UNEP/EA.3/INF/5, p. 105.
 Nordic Co-operation. (2019). Nordic ministerial declaration on the call for a global agreement to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics. Nordic Co-operation official website. Accessed 23rd March 2020. Available here.
 Market Screener (2019). CARICOM Caribbean Community: Communiqué issued at the conclusion of the fortieth regular meeting of the conference of heads of government of the Caribbean community. Market Screener website. Accessed 30th March 2020. Available here.
 African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). Report of the ministerial segment. (Durban, November 2019). AMCEN/17/9. Available here.
 European Commission. A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a cleaner and more competitive Europe. (Brussels, 11th March 2020). COM(2020) 98 final. Available here.
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