In the 1967 movie The Graduate (the first movie my wife and I saw together), Benjamin Braddock, contemplating his future, is steered toward an outstanding career with one word: “plastics.” Plastics, it was believed, could do anything. Fifty-five years later, we now know plastics have horrible downsides – they last almost forever and are causing significant worldwide pollution. Once seen as a positive, plastics’ durability is clearly a liability; small and large pieces of plastic are found in every ocean and even within animal and human bodies. Landfills are overwhelmed with plastic, and recycling programs don’t know what to do with all the different types of plastic.
This makes the United Nations agreement this March a significant step forward. More than 175 countries came together in Nairobi to agree on a framework to curtail plastics pollution and to start negotiations on an international treaty to eliminate plastics. A team to work on this treaty is being formed and hopes to have a document for consideration by the end of 2024.
What makes this work so exciting is how the treaty will be written. It is destined to be legally binding on the nations that sign on. It will address both ocean- and land-based plastics pollution. The treaty will consider the entire life cycle of plastics, from production (with its cost in carbon dioxide generated) to use and eventual disposal. There is also a recognition that lower-income countries will need some financial assistance to implement this treaty. While these ambitious goals will make reaching a final accord more challenging, it is encouraging that nations recognize their necessity. It should be noted, Canada has already started its effort to reduce the harm of plastics through a commitment to ban single-use plastics over the short term, and through a longer-term plan to reduce plastics pollution.
However, we all have seen good intentions of government and industry be sidelined by political considerations. The plans of nations and our government are a promising first step, but we will need to continue down this path if we are to deal with plastics pollution. We will have to change our individual behaviours and consumption patterns to support these efforts.
As Christians who are aware that we are stewards of this planet, not its owners, we should strongly support efforts to reduce the harm we are doing to our world. What if the governments of this world knew Christians were solidly behind efforts to reduce plastic pollution and were willing to pay the cost to achieve this shared goal? That would empower our leaders to fulfill their commitments. Let us thank our Lord for the action taken to address this global problem and pray for a decisive outcome.
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