Incomprehensible Failure to Deal with Plastics Problem

US, Japan Reject G-7 Ocean Plastics Charter

By Jerri-Lynn ScofieldJune 19, 2018

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends much of her time in Asia and is currently working on a book about textile artisans.

The Trump administration’s trade tantrum at this month’s G-7 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, overshadowed the failure of the United States and Japan to endorse the (modest) Ocean Plastics Charter.

This commitment by the other members of the G-7– Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, “to move toward a more resource-efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics” is rather weak tea– and non-binding.

The charter has five sections, and numerous subsections (the complete text may be found here . There are two headline pledges. First, “working with industry towards 100% reusable, recyclable, or, where viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable, plastics by 2030.”

Now, I don’t expect the technology fairy  to ride to the rescue here and solve the ocean plastics problem overnight. Yet some G-7 countries–  France, for example– are seeing  some success in developing bioplastics that have less of a harmful impact on the environment than oil-based plastics. As Al Jazeera reported yesterday in France’s plastic revolution:

These include plastic produced from seaweed and algae, sugarcane and even milk – designed to try and replace harmful oil-based plastics.

Using biological materials allows these new plastic products to decompose over shorter time periods after use, in some cases, cutting decomposition time from more than 500 years to a mere four months.

And the second G-7 headline pledge, “Working with industry and other levels of government, to recycle and reuse at least 55% of plastic packaging by 2030 and recover 100% of all plastics by 2040.” In this language I see an additional slim basis for optimism. Although there’s still too much emphasis on recycling– rather than reduction in the use of plastics– the percentages and deadlines, albeit voluntary, improve slightly on previous commitments (see Planet or Plastic,and EU Makes Limited Move on Plastics: Too Little, Too Late?).

Binding Commitments Versus Complete Inaction

In announcing the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to contribute 100 million (Canadian dollars) to reducing global ocean plastics pollution. The plan is noticeably short on details, and Canadian environmentalists, among others, have called for stronger, binding measures, as reported by the CBC in Environmentalists ‘encouraged’ by G7 plastics charter but urge more action.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace Canada said the charter is a non-binding, voluntary agreement that doesn’t address single-use plastics.

“Recycling alone will not solve this problem and reduction measures are necessary if we are serious about curbing ocean plastics,” said campaigner Farrah Khan in a release.

Khan wants Canada to create binding legislation that sets reduction targets, bans single-use plastics and holds corporations responsible for the plastics they use.

Similarly, DW.com lamented the dearth of firm commitment in  G7 minus two: Leaders agree to ocean plastics charter— and highlighted that this isn’t the first time that world leaders failed to do much more than express good intentions to tackle the global plastics crisis:

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan lauded the signal, but called the plans tepid. “While the leadership to outline a common blueprint is

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