An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The world is choking in plastic trash, and the UN wants to do something to fix it. A weeklong meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution in Punta del Este, Uruguay, ended last Friday (Dec. 2). It was a first, formal step towards a legally binding international treaty to deal with the global plastics problem. Such a pact would be the most consequential environmental treaty in years, on par with 2015’s Paris Agreement on climate change. The INC will spend the next two years negotiating how binding the regulations will be. While most of the 1,800 attendees in Uruguay ostensibly support ending plastic pollution as a baseline, competing motives have factions pulling in different directions. Hardline countries and campaigners are pushing for outright bans on “problem plastics” and certain chemicals, as well as internationally set regulations and strict production monitoring. Plastics industry coalitions — which include the world’s largest plastic producers, like Nestle and Unilever — are calling for a focus on recycling and global targets defined by national priorities.

Details of the treaty will have to be negotiated over the next couple of years. The High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, made up of 45 countries, is calling to restrict the single-use plastics found in packaging and consumer goods. They make up half of the plastic waste produced today, so a restriction would hugely reduce pollution, as well as force a transformation for consumers — and the companies producing their goods — in the way they drink bottled water, order takeout, or buy cleaning products and cosmetics. An international standard for monitoring production would also try to ensure that plastics are chemically safe, genuinely recyclable, and durable enough to be reusable. Of the roughly 10,000 chemicals used in producing plastics, more than 2,400 have been found to be harmful, causing a range of health problems from asthma to infertility. Recycling is not currently viable for most plastics, but better production monitoring could shift that. Further reading: Is Plastic Recycling a Myth?

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