Ocean Plastic Pollution Is an International Problem That Requires an International Solution.

A blog post by Taylor Keselica, Junior Associate.

If you follow international environmental law, you are probably familiar the well-renowned mechanism for regulating the use of chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.[1]  The Montreal Protocol is a groundbreaking treaty whose success is attributed to clear scientific evidence of a hole in the ozone layer.[2]  You may even be aware of the Basel Convention on the on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal, which, as the name suggests, regulates transboundary hazardous wastes.[3]  You might also notice that of the numerous international environmental treaties that exist, none extensively regulate plastics.

We are all familiar with plastic and use it in our daily lives, but do we know what happens to plastic once we are finished with it?  Many responses are: “of course, it gets recycled!”  But does it?  Three hundred million tons of plastic waste is generated each year, more than half of which finds its way either into landfills or becomes litter in our natural environments.[4]  What is worse is that of the 300 million total plastic wastes generated, a mere nine percent is recycled globally.[5]  For many of us, this horrifying information does not cross our minds because many of us have the ability to believe “out of sight, out of mind.”  But for many others – humans and wildlife alike – the plastic pollution problem is a normal occurrence of everyday life.[6]  To illustrate, many citizens of underdeveloped countries live on top of plastic barges and children in these countries spend their day picking through these giant plastic barges to sell plastic at markets, rather than attending school.[7]  In addition, sea birds, turtles, and other aquatic life are increasingly being found with stomachs full of plastic, of which is usually the cause of death in these animals.[8]

So why, then, is there no international environmental mechanism to address the threat plastics have on human and marine populations?  Ocean plastic pollution is an international problem that requires an international solution.

[1] The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone, Sept. 16, 1987, 1522 U.N.T.S. 26369.

[2] Saving the ozone layer: why the Montreal Protocol worked, The Conversation (Sept. 9, 2014, 4:23 PM), http://theconversation.com/saving-the-ozone-layer-why-the-montreal-protocol-worked-9249.

[3] The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, Mar. 22, 1989, 1637 U.N.T.S. 9.

[4] This World Environment Day, it’s time for a change, UN Environment, https://www.unenvironment.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/.

[5] Hannah Ritchie, FAQs on Plastics, Our World in Data (Sept. 2, 2018), https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#how-much-of-global-plastic-is-recycled.

[6] A Plastic Ocean (Indigo Productions 2016).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

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