Curbing plastic pollutionis the goal. A summit of 175 countries and 1,500 scientists began on Monday, at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris, to achieve a future global treaty. But the United States, China and Saudi Arabia, oil producers, oppose this globality.
For five days everyone will look for formulas to "end plastic pollution", when it has been found even on the summits of the Pyrenees and the Himalayas. More than 350 million tons of plastic waste are generated worldwide annually. Plastic pollution affects the entire planet and particularly the oceans.
Under the presidency of the United Nations, the goal is to achieve "the most important multilateral environmental agreement since the Paris climate agreement," said the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, Inger Anderson.
More than 350 million tons of plastic waste are generated worldwide annually. Photo: Luis Acosta / AFP
Paris receives the delegates, after the end of November 1922, in Punta del Este, an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee was created.
The Paris summit will be vital to obtain a text, which will need another three sessions to be perfected, until the end of 2024.
"In an international negotiation, it is not in the second session, which has 5 rounds, that it is decisive. It is generally the last, in which it is allowed to reach countries that have more distant positions," explained the French Minister of Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu.
'A ticking time bomb'
President Emmanuel Macron opened the summit but with a recorded message. This Monday was a Pentecost holiday in France.
Macron called on Monday to "end a globalized and unsustainable model" of plastic production and consumption, so that negotiations on a future global treaty against this great pollution are resumed in Paris.
"If we do nothing, plastic waste generation will triple again by 2060. Plastic pollution is therefore a ticking time bomb, at the same time as a scourge already present," the French president said in a video message to representatives of 175 nations, gathered at UNESCO headquarters until Friday.
According to the Head of State, "we must definitively put an end to a globalized and unsustainable model, which consists of producing plastic in China or OECD countries, and then exporting it in the form of waste to other developing countries, which however are less equipped with waste treatment systems."
Plastic pollution affects the entire planet and particularly the oceans. Photo: Olivier Morin / AFP
Two coalitions will face off at the summit: the United States, China and Saudi Arabia, which produce oil, the basis of plastic, and 50 other countries, including the EU, France, Germany, Rwanda and Norway, in favor of restrictive measures and a limitation on the production of plastic materials. At least 600 NGOs around the world will monitor.
The first triumph of the anti-plastics coalition was to get the support of Japan, which is the second largest producer of plastic waste. Tokyo wants to end plastic packaging by 2040.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colona warned: "Plastic is everywhere. In our daily lives, in our refrigerators but also in our garbage dumps, in the oceans and in our lungs."
Plastic waste is mixed among garbage, in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: Arif Ali / AFP
You have to put a limit because plastic is going to advance. Once it is in nature, it divides into small microparticles, which are carried by the wind and will end up distributed everywhere. Including mountain peaks.
If it is not curbed by 2060, it could exceed one billion tons of plastic per year, according to the OCDE.Se seek to achieve global targets to curb this likely production, with national commitments to meet, including tax incentives.
Reduction, not recycling
Recycling is also under discussion, especially if it is chemical.
The plastic is divided into small microparticles, which are carried by the wind and end up distributed everywhere. Photo: Desiree Martin / AFP
"It is an extremely expensive procedure, which pollutes and consumes energy," explained Diane Beaumenay Joannet, responsible for maritime pollution at the Surrider Foundation Europe. The factories that will be installed for this will always need plastic to be profitable.
Therefore they want to prioritize the treatment of plastic waste at its source and its reuse.
The discussion then will not be recycling but the reduction of plastic waste.
Another issue to be discussed will be the responsibility not to export this material to third world countries. Photo: Dominique Faget/ AFP
Another issue to be discussed will be the responsibility not to export this material to third world countries, with less developed technologies to treat them and less sanitary legislation.
Pollution is gigantic and plastic is ubiquitous in our lives. The 8.300 billion tons of plastics produced since 1950 could "cover all of France with 50 centimeters of polymers or cover the entire surface of the Earth with a layer of 2 millimeters," said Jeroen Sonke, director of research at the CNRS and first author of a global plastics balance.
"We abuse plastic because it's so cheap. But it has consequences for the environment, the oceans, flora and fauna," said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
The 8.300 billion tons of plastics produced since 1950 could "cover all of France. Photo: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/ AFP)
In addition to the approximately 8 to 9 million tons of plastics that are thrown into the sea each year, most plastics are stored on land and in marine sediments, a meager part is recycled (about 8%), another is incinerated (10%) and even emitted into the atmosphere (30,000 tons per year).
These polymers are found everywhere: plastic debris or microparticles have been found in the Mariana Trench, 10,000 meters deep in the Pacific Ocean, and up to the top of the Pic du Midi in France.
A meteorological fact
We can find "on the ground, up to 400 kg of plastic per hectare, with spreading," said Pascale Fabre, director of research at the CNRS.
The French have added a new index to their meteorology: "plastic weather".
Today 40 kilos of plastic pollution are expected in Paris. An initiative of the Australian foundation Minderoo, which allows to measure it.