A global explosion of disposable plastic, which is made from oil and gas, is increasing carbon emissions, despoiling the world's oceans, harming wildlife and contaminating the food chain. More than 50 countries, including all 27 members of the European Union, are calling for the pact to include measures targeting plastic production.
That's a problem for big oil and chemical companies. The industry is projected to double plastic output worldwide within two decades.
Plastic is embedded in modern life and indispensable to sectors such as automaking. The plastics industry has been quick to cite such applications in defending unfettered production.
But it is throwaway plastics such as food wrappers, grocery bags and delivery packaging that are the main focus of the U.N. conference. Single-use plastic accounts for around 40% of all production, according to a landmark 2017 study in the journal Science Advances.
More than 100 countries are due to attend the U.N. Environmental Assembly (UNEA) summit - either in person or virtually - to agree on the framework for a global plan to tackle plastic pollution. It is likely to take at least two more years to finalize a treaty.
Getting countries to commit to binding limits on the production and use of throwaway plastics is essential if the treaty is to have any effect, advocates say.
"Voluntary efforts have spectacularly failed," said Trisia Farrelly, a plastics researcher at New Zealand's Massey University and a consultant to UNEA. "We need measurable, time-bound targets."
The public is also on board, according to a 2019 IPSOS poll. More than 70% of people surveyed said single-use plastic packaging should be banned, according to that poll of 19,515 adults across 28 countries.
"People are watching what we're doing, and they're expecting results," said Steven Guilbeault, environment minister for Canada, which along with Ghana is facilitating the treaty talks in Nairobi.
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