UN Resolution On Fighting Plastic Pollution Weakened By US Resistance


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Not the future anyone wants. DutchScenery/Shutterstock

The United Nations has agreed on a resolution that asks the world to completely prevent plastic garbage from entering the hydrosphere.

Although it’s not legally enforceable, the resolution – due to be officiated today – would advocate for the formation of an international task force that will help tackle the problem. As reported by BBC News, it’s likely to be the first step toward a global ban on oceanic plastic.


A stronger motion was on the table, one that featured set legally binding targets and timetables, but it was shot down after one single country refused to agree to it: the United States, of course.

Erik Solheim, the UN’s Environment Executive Director, told CBS News: “We need to understand that if we kill our oceans, we also kill ourselves.”

The resolution was agreed upon by delegates at a pollution-focused summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Pollution is the world’s most prolific killer, robbing 9 million people of their lives every single year – most of whom reside in poorer nations.

Astronauts Mae Jemison and Rakesh Sharma recorded a video for the summit that explains how plenty of pollution is now clearly visible from outer space.


“Until we see that we have a shared responsibility, a shared origin, and a shared reliance on the resources of this planet, we don’t have a sustainable future,” Jemison noted.

Plastic pollution, though, is becoming so prevalent, widespread, and viscerally impactful that it’s become the primary talking point in Nairobi at present. Delegates have been sharing grim stories of how it’s being found in every nook and cranny of the world’s seas and oceans – particularly those off the shores of developing or wealthy countries in Southeast Asia.

This isn’t the UN’s first foray into combatting the phenomenon this year. Back in February, the UN launched its Clean Seas initiative, one that hopes to raise awareness of the plastic pollution crisis. Its mission is to target the root cause of the problem – plastic manufacturing – which is stuck in a bygone era.

Thanks to its industry-driven proliferation, plastic is now a defining characteristic of the human epoch, the Anthropocene. It’s altered food chains, covered the oceans in gigantic garbage patches, and has even entered the rock cycle. Bacteria have evolved to digest PET, a common type.


Food cycles and ecologies are beginning to suffer and collapse thanks to the accidental ingestion of plastics, particularly microplastics. Eventually, plenty of this plastic is inadvertently eaten by seafood-consuming people, which means that we’re actively contaminating ourselves.

This clearly doesn’t need to happen. Bioplastic, which has the same properties but is made from biodegradable substances, could replace 90 percent of all plastics that exist today, while also drawing down billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions – plastic is made from fossil fuel byproducts, after all.

Resolutions like this one are clearly welcome, and in some ways, it echoes the Paris agreement. Although actually cutting emissions is not legally binding, just as this pushback against plastic isn’t, it doesn’t mean massive international agreements aren’t effective.


Just look at the Montreal Protocol, which advocated for a worldwide ban on chemicals that depleted the ozone layer. It’s been seen as a roaring success, and by 2050, the hole will likely be completely repaired.


The potential for this resolution to have a major effect on the use of plastics across the planet is yet to be seen, but the resistance of the newly isolationist America does present some problems. Although the world can move on without the help of the White House, as the most powerful country in the world, its assistance would provide some much-needed symbolic and practical help.


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