175 nations committed to develop a treaty that would address global plastic waste pollution. The agreement was made on March 2, during the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, NBC reports.
"Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics," said Inger Andersen, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, in a statement reported by NBC. "It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it."
Plastic waste is detrimental to ecosystems and the organisms that live in them. An article published by Scientific American discusses the detrimental effects of plastic waste on the environment, and the wide range of places around the globe that plastics have been detected, from oceans to farmland and even the snow in the arctic. The presence of plastics in these places can reduce the quality of drinking water, cause damage to the organs of animals that ingest it, and reduce the quality of soil, harming agricultural efficiency.
CBS reports that to address these concerns, many of the world’s biggest producers of plastic, including the United States and China, have signed the UN Environment Assembly’s agreement to develop a plastic waste treaty by 2024.
Though the treaty itself will not be finalized for a few years, the agreement made at the UN Environment Assembly meeting does specify the issues the treaty must address. The New York Times reports that these include addressing the entire “life cycle” of plastic, from its production to its disposal, as well as recycling, and the removal of microplastics from the environment. The agreement also stipulates that the treaty must be legally binding.
Many of the stipulations of the agreement were drawn from a joint proposal submitted to the assembly by delegations from Peru and Rwanda. The New York Times reported on the key role of both nations in developing the agreement, including statements made by Rwandan Minister of Environment Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya during the meeting.
“Plastic pollution is a planetary crisis, a threat that affects all of us,” said Mujawamariya. “The real work now begins.”
While the agreement made by the UN Environment Assembly is a step towards addressing the issue of plastic waste, it does not yet require nations to make changes to their current methods of disposing of plastic. Nations have only agreed to develop a treaty, not to make immediate changes to their current practices or to sign the treaty when it is developed.
Paula Chin, senior policy advisor for the World Wildlife Fund, a charity organization that works towards conservation, told BBC, “The next step is to make sure all signatories are ready to deliver on the promise of this ground-breaking agreement.”