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World Environment Day: Beating Plastic Pollution and urgent actions

- By dr. Rosa M. Fernandez Martin, PhD

- TIS Special Issue available here: Issue 3 Vol 56 2021


On June 5th 2023 we ‘celebrated’ the 50th anniversary of World Environment Day, focused on the theme of Beating Plastic Pollution. While there were positive conclusions about already existing tools to reduce the use of plastics, it feels that the point about urgent action keeps being missed. In effect, there was already another year as recently as 2018 also dedicated to the same theme. This is not to say that progress has not been made, but changes come very slowly, as usual, particularly when solutions require behavioural change and political will (as well as resources) at the international level. Public opinion voices demands for a cleaner environment more strongly each day, which means that governments (local, national and international) cannot remain passive spectators. Under the United Nations’ framework, negotiations for an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution began in 2022, with the second session of the International Negotiating Committee finishing in Paris just a few days before World Environment Day. The expectation is to have an initial draft before the next session takes place in Nairobi this November.

The European Union anticipated the international consumer mood that now shows aversion to plastics and their effects more openly , aligning such thoughts with European measures as the Packaging Directive in place since 1994 (regularly amended), the approval of a Directive on plastic bags in 2015, an EU plastics strategy in 2018, and a single-use plastic Directive in 2019. Moreover, the European Green Deal (European Commission, 2019) went beyond technical aspects and banning initiatives to touch upon what seems to matter the most: money. The EU, therefore, proposed a tax on non-recycling packaging waste as one of its ‘new own resources’. The proposal materialised on a new Member State’s national contribution of €0.80 per kilogram of plastic packaging waste that is not recycled, starting from January 2021. Even with regards to such measures, as always, there are exceptions and more lenient conditions for less prosperous Members.

Resistance to change is still witnessed: research (Kasznik and Lapniewska, 2023) shows that the 2019 Directive on plastic use is facing opposition from the business sector (e.g. companies that produce single-use plastic products and sellers such as retail outlets and food service establishments), while consumers and producers blame each other for the current environmental decline. This setting brings once more into perspective the Special Issue published by the International Spectator in 2021, and shows that its message is still very much alive: for a transition to sustainability to be successful, all members of society need to be involved. The Special Issue highlighted the role of different actors (policymakers, communities, private actors, etc.) and the myriad of approaches that countries can use in their sustainability transition journey, as well as the barriers, reluctance to change, lobbies, and contradictions that slow down the necessary progress. All in all, the latest World Environment Day should serve as a reminder that while different actors keep delaying the unavoidable need for change, the planet continues its downward sloping trend towards depletion of resources and biodiversity loss. The consequences we are all experiencing from the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis caused by the inflationary pressures created by the war in Ukraine should be a sufficient wake up call to find common ground and move forward instead of staying still. Delays and inaction are not acceptable any longer.

Post updated on July 26 2023 12.55 pm CEST


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