- 460 million tonnes were produced in 2019, 80% of which became waste in less than a year. And production could triple by 2060, warns the OECD. This is the whole problem of plastic, a useful material in many cases, but which proliferates as long as we do not know how to manage it.
- In March 2022, 175 nations pledged to develop a legally binding agreement on pollution, to be ready by the end of 2024. The roadmap is very tight and goes through Paris next week, with a second round of negotiations at UNESCO headquarters.
- What to expect from this meeting? 20 Minutes takes a look at the issues.
In March 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya, 175 nations committed to develop a binding legal agreement on plastic pollution. Nine months later, a first round of negotiations brought together these same countries in Uruguay. A second will open on Monday, until Friday, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. With the imperative to enter a little more into the concrete. To hope for a first draft treaty? A brief overview of the week's issues.
An ever stronger dependence?
"This is not a treaty against plastic," says Sophie Roux de Bézieux, president of the Fondation de la mer, who follows the negotiations in the college of civil society actors. "In many cases, the use of this material is relevant," she says. The problem is that plastic proliferates and we no longer know how to manage it. »
"Nine billion tons have been produced since the 1950s, when we started putting plastic everywhere," says Juliette Franquet, director of the NGO Zero Waste France. In 2019 alone, the OECD estimates that 460 million tonnes of plastic were produced worldwide. "81% become waste in less than a year," says Sophie Roux de Bézieux. In addition, only 19% is recycled and 22% ends up in nature." Above all, the trend is not good: the annual production of plastic - as much as the waste generated - could triple by 2060, fears the OECD.
Plastic pollution far from being limited to the oceans?
Much has been said about the "7th continent", this vortex of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The symbol is strong, "but it's just the tip of the iceberg," insists Juliette Franquet. Plastic waste ranges from macros, visible to the naked eye, to nanoparticles. If you take that whole spectrum, you can find plastic everywhere you look for it. From the summit of Everest to the fresh snow of Antarctica. Behind, the impacts are multiple. Both on biodiversity and for human health or soil, lists Henri Bourgeois Costa, director of public affairs of the Tara Ocean Scientific Foundation. He adds the climate impact not to be forgotten, plastic being a derivative of petroleum. "According to the OECD, at the rate things are going, the plastics industry will account for 17% of global CO2 emissions," he said.
What must the treaty contain?
Henri Bourgeois Costa and Juliette Franquet insist that the solution to plastic pollution will not come from recycling but from reducing the problem at the source. "The urgency is to stabilize the world's annual production and, as soon as possible, to decrease it," insists the spokesperson of Tara Ocean. This means putting a lot of things in this treaty. "A key challenge is to control and reduce the diversity of types of plastics on the market today [more than 4,000] and to do the same on the raw materials and additives used to manufacture them, to the point of banning the most toxic," he explains.
Juliette Franquet adds the exit of unnecessary plastics. Not just straws, cotton buds, disposable cutlery and other single-use plastics that France and the European Union have started banning. It also targets packaging, which accounts for 36% of plastics produced each year. "The margins of reduction are important, alternatives already exist in many cases," abounds Henri Bourgeois Costa.
What to expect from this Parisian week?
The roadmap gives until the end of 2024 to give birth to this treaty. An extremely short time for a text of this importance. It is therefore not a question of dragging around, but we are still very early in the negotiations and this round in Paris will be followed by others, including the next one in Nairobi in the autumn.
Should we still hope for a first draft treaty by Friday? Sophie Roux de Bézieux doubts it, "even if it will be necessary to advance as much as possible". "First of all, we must already agree on common terminologies," she begins. What is meant by single use, recycling and even plastic? From one country to another, the definitions are not the same" This work on definitions is a crucial point of the week also cited by Juliette Franquet and Henri Bourgeois Costa.
The latter adds a second: "It will be necessary to record the rules of governance of this future treaty, including the form of voting of the final text. " In other words: qualified majority voting or unanimity? The choice is not trivial. "For this treaty to have a strong scope, a majority of countries must sign it, but unanimity carries the risk of having to find the lowest common denominator to have all the signatures," says the spokesperson of Tara Ocean. In short: to lower ambitions, a criticism that comes up regularly at the end of each COP on climate.
Which countries are braking with all four irons?
A High Ambition Coalition currently brings together 52 countries and the European Union. It includes France but also Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Nigeria, Costa Rica and a multitude of small island states. This group is pushing to make this plastic treaty "an international legally binding instrument" and aiming to eliminate plastic pollution by 2040.
There is a lack of great powers in this coalition. China, India, Brazil, the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia... not to mention Russia. From there to say that they all brake with all four irons? "For some, like China, positions remain unclear, we do not know very well what they think," begins Sophie Roux de Bézieux. "But a certain number also hide less and less their very conservative positions," adds Henri Bourgeois Costa, who cites Japan, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, the United States. For fear that this plastic treaty will harm their economy? Probably in part. The spokesperson for Tara Ocean sees above all the oil issue: "While oil energy has lead in the wing, manufacturers in the sector see plastic production as a way forward and exaggerate the potential of recycling. "