NewsTogether against plastic: UN seeks agreement

Together against plastic: UN seeks agreement

Yoghurt pots, diapers, shower gel bottles. Plastic is increasingly polluting the planet worldwide, experts warn. After months of wrangling, a legally binding global deal could now be within reach.

Nairobi – The picturesque east coast of Kenya looks like something out of a picture book. White sandy beaches, coconut trees, wooden fishing boats bobbing on the waves of the Indian Ocean. But something disturbs the idyll: the many colorful plastic particles that intersperse the fine, white sand.

Picking it up quickly becomes a Sisyphean task. No matter how deep you dig, you will always find plastic parts: plastic packaging, shampoo bottles, disposable cutlery. Local residents and restaurateurs clean the beaches almost every day. At the latest after the next high tide, however, the work starts all over again.

In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the UN member states are currently working on bringing about an agreement on less plastic waste. Germany was one of the first countries to advocate a global convention. In the coming week, the starting signal is to be given at the level of the national environment ministers as part of the UN Environment Assembly UNEA, which starts on Monday.

Only 9 percent is recycled

But there is still no escape. Also not in the fish trade. 90 percent of what is pulled from the sea is plastic waste, says a fishmonger in Nairobi, who buys goods from around 150 fishermen on the coast. When gutting large fish such as grouper or swordfish, plastic is regularly found in the abdomen.

For experts, the garbage floating in the seas is only the visible tip of a global plastic mountain. According to estimates by the United Nations (UN), 400 million tons of plastic waste are now produced worldwide every year. This can only be recycled to a limited extent: according to the UN, only 9 percent of the waste is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, is incinerated or floats down rivers into the sea. The accusation goes that the exported waste from rich countries like Germany often causes great damage in poorer countries because it cannot be properly disposed of there due to a lack of infrastructure.

A right to a clean environment

Beyond the trash, scientists are warning of the health impacts that plastic production and ubiquitous use of plastic is having on human health. The smallest plastic particles, so-called micro- and nanoplastics, get into the human body through food such as fish, honey or salt, but also through the inhaled air. For example, plastic has been found in the placenta of pregnant women, in the lungs and liver, according to a report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) Scientific Advisory Committee in October. Plastics and chemicals such as plasticizers used in plastic production are suspected to be carcinogenic and negatively affect human fertility.

“We all have the right to a clean environment, physical health and a safe climate. The global plastic crisis threatens all of these rights,” says Lili Fuhr, International Environmental Policy Officer at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, which is close to the Greens. “Politicians must ensure that products and packaging that contain toxic substances or are not reusable do not even come onto the market.”

During the preliminary negotiations for the new agreement, the question of the legally binding nature of the agreement was particularly controversial. There has also long been disagreement as to whether the envisaged convention on marine pollution should deal with the entire life cycle of plastic and thus also with production, consumption and waste management.

In the days leading up to UNEA, every word in Nairobi was fought late into the night. According to negotiating circles at the weekend, it was possible to include the legally binding nature and the entire plastic life cycle in the text of the resolution. If the resolution is actually passed unanimously on Wednesday, the goal is to develop a legally binding agreement by the end of 2023. dpa

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