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‘Zero ambition’ to protect human health at Global Plastics Treaty talks
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Man walking on a Bali beach littered with plastic

World leaders have been accused of showing ‘zero ambition’ to protect health in the pivotal Global Plastics Treaty talks in Kenya this week.

The remarks were made by the Plastic Health Council in Nairobi at INC-3.

This week saw certain international delegates debate an extremely restrictive Global Plastics Treaty text that failed to set out legally binding targets and timeframes on plastic production and reduction.

The text was introduced by Iran – the eighth-largest oil-producing country in the world. Because plastic is made from petrochemicals, Iran is strongly motivated to weaken the treaty.

The talks have thus far seen little mention of binding instruments to reduce the human health impact of plastic – a measure called for by global scientists.

Human health impacts

Earlier this week 20 scientists co-signed an open letter to the international community to coincide with the start of the Nairobi talks.

The scientists include: Dr Linda S. Birnbaum of Duke University and retired director of the U.S `national Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr John Peterson Myers of Carnegie Mellon University, Professor Dr Dick Vethaak of VU University Amsterdam, Dr Terrence J. Collins of Carnegie Mellon University, Dr Philip J. Landrigan of Boston College, Dr Shanna H. Swan of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Professor Dr Barbro Melgert of the University of Groningen, and Professor Hugh Montgomery of University College London.

‘The negotiating process so far has done little to fully consider human health impact. However, our launch of the Health Scientists’ Global Plastic Treaty, written to protect human life, was standing-room only, attended by delegates, scientists, lawyers and industry.  People know this is a historic moment.

‘The demands laid out in the Health Scientists’ Global Plastics Treaty are ambitious  – some may consider them unreasonable. But it is not the role of scientists to be popular, nor is it the role of science to be ‘reasonable’.

‘It is the role of science to be truthful, to report the proven data and to be clear on the impacts if this research is not heeded.

‘Our message to the delegates is simple. Will you create a UN Plastics Treaty that protects the future profits of the fossil fuel industry or will you create a Treaty that protects the future health of your people’.

SIAN SUTHERLAND
Co-founder of A Plastic Planet and the Plastic Health Council

Falling short

Globally, 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year with 16,000 known component chemical ingredients, many of which are associated with endocrine disruption, fertility, heart disease, and cancer.

Led by the Plastic Health Council, representing leading scientists, the letter outlines the key elements of the ‘Health Scientists’ Global Plastic Treaty’ that must be included to address the known science on the impact of plastic chemical and particles on health.

They argue that the current UN published ‘Zero Draft’ ‘falls short’ and is not ‘strong enough to protect the health of future generations’.

The scientists agree that an impactful treaty must ‘reduce the production volumes of plastics’, ‘eradicate all but verifiably essential single-use plastic items’, ‘mandate proper testing of all chemicals in plastics’ and ‘prohibit ‘the chimera of chemical recycling’ of plastic’.

They write ‘The Global Plastics Treaty is a once-in-a-century opportunity to protect human health from toxic polluting plastic. World leaders cannot afford to leave their populations vulnerable to the toxic effects of plastic.’

‘What began as an almost invisible trickle near the beginning of the 20th century now in the 21st has become a monstrous tsunami. Plastic and plastic chemicals have spread like a scourge to every part of our planet, even inside us at levels known to be hazardous. Yet industry projections based on ‘business as usual’ anticipate the volume of plastics created will double by the mid-century.

‘We must choose. Will we smother the Earth and ourselves with toxic plastics? Or do we have the courage and foresight to stop the onslaught?’

DR JOHN PETERSON MYERS
Founder, Environmental Health Sciences and Member of the Plastic Health Council

The Plastic Health Council is attending INC-3 in Nairobi to urge delegates to ensure that the human health impact of plastic is a core element of any future legally binding treaty on plastic pollution.

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