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This week, representatives from 150 nations are meeting in Uruguay with the goal of dramatically reducing or eliminating all plastic pollution by 2040. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers introduced a new bill to help curtail the harmful impacts of plastic waste. Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
From packaged food to disposable bottles, plastic is a part of daily life and plastic pollution and its harmful impact on humans and wildlife continues to be a major environmental concern. Amna Nawaz has the latest on an international effort aimed at eliminating plastic waste.
Every minute, an entire garbage truck worth of plastic waste is dumped into the world's oceans. That's according to the United Nations Environment Program. This week, the first ever global plastic pollution negotiations kicked off in Uruguay, representatives from 150 nations are meeting with the goal of dramatically reducing or eliminating all plastic pollution by 2040.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., two Democratic lawmakers introduced a new bill this week to help curtail the harmful impacts of plastic waste here at home. The proposed legislation from Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Jared Huffman would strengthen protections for frontline communities hardest hit by plastic production and pollution.
Joining us now is Michael Birnbaum. He's a reporter at The Washington Post covering climate and security Michael, welcome to the NewsHour. And thank you for joining us.
Michael Birnbaum, Climate Reporter, The Washington Post:
Thanks for having me.
So this summit these negotiations, these meetings, the fact that 150 nations are taking part in these right now, what does that tell you about the scale of the plastic pollution problem right now?
Well, there is a major plastic pollution problem globally. And I think there's global acknowledgment that it's a problem. No one is in favor of plastic pollution, even if there are disagreements about what to do about it.
And so there is kind of increasing interest in a global effort concerted and coordinated action to address plastic pollution, a much in the same way that the world has come together to address greenhouse gas emissions.
What could that look like in the way of coordinated action? I mean, what are we likely to see in the way of real actionable plans that come out of these meetings?
They're still very much in the beginning phase of talking about how to approach the issue. But there are different things that countries can do. One thing is that they can set a global cap on plastic production, since a lot of people say you need to address it at the source.
Now the thing they can do is regulate the kinds of chemicals that are going into plastic that could make it safer to produce and also safer to recycle fewer toxins in the air.
And then there are different kinds of things they can do once you're done with plastic, actually recycling it, or at least limiting the flows into the oceans, which are a really major problem and one that's getting worse.
You mentioned countries coming together on issues like greenhouse gas emissions, but even then, different nations view the issue very differently. So when it comes to plastic pollution, what are some of the sticking points?
One country Saudi Arabia was arguing in this gathering in Uruguay, that, you know, plastics are a great thing. And we shouldn't do too much to limit their production because they have so many advantageous uses. Most countries are in favor of somewhat more aggressive action than that. There are disagreements about whether countries should be focusing their energy on really kind of reducing pollution and what's going into waters or should they be thinking more about the production process and reducing more at the outset.
Michael, what about multinational corporations companies that work in a number of different countries around the world.
When you look at the numbers and research from last year shows that just 20 multinational companies are responsible for producing more than half 55 percent of all single use plastic waste in the world. When it comes to regulation there, what can be done?
Well, that's a really interesting question. Multinational companies are represented right now, in your grave. And there are some arguments from advocacy groups, that there is no role for those companies to take part in the talks. They point to efforts to limit tobacco use in years past and tobacco companies were excluded from those talks.
Right now I think there is discussion about, you know, what can those companies do to limit the harms that they're creating. And so that could be using different chemicals, changing their production process or doing things to make it easier to recycle plastics. Right now only about 10 percent of plastics actually get recycled.
Knowing how big the plastic pollution problem is, across the world? What if they don't end up reaching some kind of agreement?
Well, right now, there are studies that estimate that we are on track to triple the plastics going into the world's oceans in the next 20 years. There's a lot of anxiety around this issue, but a real sense that something does need to be done, increased urgency and, and looking at the problem a lot like the way that the world has been looking at global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. But there's still more that's being done in a coordinated way now than a few years ago. And so I think there's the expectation and hope that something similar will happen for plastics.
That is Michael Birnbaum, who covers climate and security for the Washington Post. Thank you for joining us.
Thanks a lot.
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