UN starts working towards a global plan to curb plastic pollution

The treaty could end up being as important as the Paris climate accord.

"Turn off the plastic tap," a 30-foot monument by Canadian artist Benjamin von Wong. (Monicah Mwangi / reuters)

After a week of negotiations in Nairobi, the United Nations has agreed to start working on a first-ever global plastic pollution treaty, Reuters reports. It's not projected to be completed until 2024, but according to the UN it could end up being as important as the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the most significant global effort to curb climate change yet. In 2019, the organization found that humanity is damaging nature at an "unprecedented" rate, with plastic pollution growing by more than ten times since 1980. Heck, we've even found microplastics in the Arctic, one of the most remote areas on Earth.

The real question, of course, is how UN members plan to address the scourge of plastics. As the New York Times reports, the agreement would involve coming up with legally binding measures to clean up plastic waste. But crucially, it would also involve limiting plastic production, a move that's certain to face industry pushback.

As you'd expect, different countries also have different priorities. While major plastic producers like the US and Japan objected to language in the agreement, developing nations stressed the need for more involvement. In particular, the agreement highlighted the importance of waste pickers, who work long hours sorting trash, all the while breathing in toxic fumes.