Norway and Rwanda are leading a coalition working to eliminate plastic pollution. The US isn't a part — for now.
- Norway and Rwanda are leading a global effort to hold countries accountable for their plastic waste.
- The pair launched a group of 20 nations to push for reducing plastic production and more recycling.
If countries were graded on their passion for curbing plastic waste, Norway and Rwanda would make the honor roll.
This week, the two launched a "high-ambition" coalition of 20 countries that will work to end plastic pollution by 2040. The group plans to push for lowering plastic production, improving recycling, and developing tools to hold countries accountable to their promises.
The effort follows a major agreement earlier this year among more than 150 nations at the UN Environmental Assembly. Countries aim to hash out a treaty by 2024 to reduce plastic waste, which is piling up in landfills and waterways, harming marine life, and contributing to the climate crisis.
"This is an unacceptable burden to place on future generations," Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda's minister of environment, said in a statement.
The largest source of that burden — the US — hasn't yet signed on to the coalition, though that could change. The US produces more than twice as much plastic waste as China, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences.
Plastic production has exploded since the 1970s and boosted the bottom lines of oil and petrochemical companies. The industry is investing in new plastic plants around the world to offset dropping demand for fossil fuels as countries try to combat the climate crisis. Without radical action to curb demand, global plastic waste could triple in the coming decades, with less than one-fifth of it getting recycled.
A State Department spokesperson said there is no one-size-fits-all solution to combating plastic pollution. The spokesperson also said a treaty should be flexible so individual countries can decide the best strategies to keep plastic out of the environment. They added that US officials played an active role at the UN Environment Assembly and will also participate in the first meeting on a global treaty in Uruguay in November.
Erica Nuñez — who worked on international marine litter and microplastics issues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before joining The Ocean Foundation — told Insider that the US absence from the "high-ambition" coalition doesn't mean much right now, because the government often takes a while to finalize its positions.
Either way, Nuñez was glad to see the coalition explicitly state a goal to "restrain" plastic production and eliminate "problematic" plastics, because recycling alone won't solve the waste problem.
The coalition won't push for limits on plastic production. Instead, the focus will be on reducing demand for new material through policies like banning plastics that are most likely to be littered or contain harmful chemicals. Creating markets for recycled plastic is also a priority, said Martin Lerberg Fossum, a spokesman for the coalition.
Researchers have identified some 10,000 chemicals associated with plastic manufacturing, with more than 2,400 of potential concern to human health and the environment.
"We don't know how much plastic is being produced, where it's going, what additives or fillers are used or their toxicity," Neil Tangri, the science and policy director at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said. "We need harmonized standards and data to track and verify progress."
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