Urgent Need to Advance More Specific Regulations to Protect the Planet Against Plastic Pollution 

  • The International Mother Earth Day 2024 aims to raise awareness about the urgent need to reduce global plastic production.  
  • The International Institute of Law and the Environment (IIDMA) highlights the lack of regulation in preventing ecological disasters such as plastic pellet spills in the sea.  

Madrid, April 22, 2024 – This Monday, April 22, International Mother Earth Day is celebrated, a date marked by the United Nations with the purpose of creating common awareness about the climate and environmental issues affecting our planet.  

This year, the chosen motto is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’, coinciding with the Fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Marine Plastic Pollution (INC-4), which meets in Ottawa (Canada) from April 21st to the 30th. The Committee, established during the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), aims to develop a legally binding international instrument on plastic pollution covering marine environments. 

The excessive use of plastics worldwide has indeed generated a significant environmental problem: according to data from the European Parliament’s Research Service, the oceans currently contain over 150 million tons of plastics. The consequences of this not only involve coastal pollution but also severely impact marine biodiversity and human health (through the food chain). Additionally, the estimated cost of marine litter ranges from 259 to 695 million euros, mainly affecting tourism and fishing sectors. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050, there could be more plastics than fish in the oceans. 

In addition to plastic overproduction, ecological disasters such as the one that occurred on December 8th when the ship Toconao spilled 26.3 tons of plastic pellets into the sea, along with five other containers of tires and plastic wrap that reached the Spanish coast. 

In this scenario, the director of the International Institute of Law and the Environment, Ana Barreira, emphasizes that the role of Law is essential in addressing this problem: “There are different international treaties that establish the legal framework for environmental protection against plastic pollution and other waste, some pioneering ones: London Convention on Dumping of Wastes (1972), MARPOL – International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (1973), UNCLOS – United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), or the Basel Convention (1989). But this is not enough; it is necessary to advance in more specific regulations and at the state level. 

Specifically, to prevent incidents like the one with the pellets, Barreira focuses on the lack of international regulation for the maritime transport of these materials, as there is, for example, for the transportation of oil. “While in March of this year, recommendations were adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the transportation of plastic pellets by sea in containers, addressing packaging, transport information, and stowage, it is necessary to advance in establishing a legal framework that addresses this issue systematically,” emphasizes the legal expert. 

The 193 Member States of the United Nations sitting at the negotiation table must now balance their interests without limiting the ambition of the future treaty or hindering its implementation. “It is imperative to reduce plastic production and promote its reuse to decrease waste generation, as well as the CO2 emissions produced in the manufacturing processes, which are a significant source of global warming,” concludes the director of IIDMA. 

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