Why we need a global plastics treaty | Inquirer Opinion

Why we need a global plastics treaty

/ 05:03 AM April 20, 2023

Every year in April, the world celebrates Earth Day. But as the excitement fades, the question remains: What have companies and leaders touting sustainability really accomplished?

Take the plastic crisis, for example, which has for decades been burdening humankind and threatening our climate. Despite plastic being responsible for over 2 billion tons of carbon emissions a year, with an estimated 170 trillion plastic particles floating in our oceans, annual plastic production has ballooned to over 300 million tons and is predicted to double in the next 10 to 15 years. While we hear countries and businesses speak about acting on this crisis, we have yet to see concrete actions to phase down production and, consequently, protect communities and nature from the plastic lifecycle.

This year’s Earth Day theme, “Invest in Our Planet,” aims to mobilize governments, businesses, and citizens to do their part in investing in a green and just economy. In a statement, earthday.org states that everyone must be accounted for and be accountable in the shift to sustainable models. But for the billions of people who are affected by plastic pollution and who are merely getting by in our current economies, the choice to avoid single-use plastics is made impossible by existing systems controlled by corporations. The onus to change should be on the latter, and governments should speed this up by focusing on regulating these industries, instead of putting the blame on people.


This is why we need a global plastics treaty that will not only mandate a cap on and a dramatic reduction in plastic production and the elimination of harmful single-use plastics, but will also drive states and industries to invest in genuine, green, and just solutions. We need a treaty that will catalyze systems change, not continue broken systems. Moreover, in creating this legally binding agreement, we must have a process to secure a just transition for vulnerable stakeholders. A just transition to phase out single-use plastic requires that the treaty create an intentional and equitable process, ensuring that groups and communities are not displaced or adversely affected by the transition.


To achieve this, it is important for all stakeholders, including waste pickers, industry workers, small businesses, and low-income communities, who currently rely on plastic, to be able to participate in the transition planning process. The process must take into account the social and economic impact on these communities; no one must be left behind.

How can a just transition happen? Support must be provided for impacted communities to lead, develop, and have roles in developing and implementing solutions, and to ensure that they are not marginalized. Opportunities should be made available for affected workers to transition to new, sustainable jobs. Support should be given to street vendors and small businesses to shift to sustainable alternatives, while large corporations must be mandated to reduce plastic packaging with clear regulations. Programs for training, education, and financial assistance must be established for workers to develop new skills, and for businesses to transition to new industries.


The treaty must also embrace authentic, environmentally sound approaches, and reject false solutions like incineration and waste colonialism, which create further harm. The treaty would also be well-served to look at community-led reuse solutions in the global South, as well as traditional sustainable practices of indigenous peoples and local communities. It should compel governments and corporations to give financial support and incentives for the development and advancement of reuse and refill systems. It must also support research to create durable, nontoxic, and reusable alternatives.

A just transition to phase out plastic requires collaboration and commitment from all stakeholders. But the biggest actors—governments and corporations—have to step up. We need them to invest resources, time, and effort into addressing the negative impact of plastic, and to develop safe, green, and just solutions to prevent plastic pollution at its source. But more importantly, their actions have to be coupled with inclusivity. We want to protect our planet for future generations, while ensuring that no one gets left behind in the journey to a better future. To invest in our planet is to invest in a safer, brighter, plastic-free future for all.


Marian Ledesma is a zero-waste campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines. She is an official delegate to the upcoming Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee session on plastic pollution in Paris to be held in May.

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