sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL. xxx • galley printed 27 April, 2022 • • For Issue Date: ???? 1
A global plastic treaty must
In March, the UN Environment Assembly
adopted a resolution to combat plastic pollution
with a global and legally binding plastics treaty
by 2024 (1). In his News In Depth story “United
Nations to tackle global plastics pollution” (25
February, p. 801), E. Stokstad discusses many of
the ambitious provisions that were included,
such as a consideration of the whole plastic life
cycle and binding targets. However, it is unclear
whether the treaty will include a cap on
production or cover plastic chemicals. Despite
interventions by the industry (2) and objections
from the United States and other delegations,
reducing plastics at the source by curbing
production is critical.
The current mass of plastic production is
at about 450 million tons annually and set to
double by 2045 (3). The immense quantity
and diversity of both plastics and plastic
chemicals, the total weight of which exceeds
the overall mass of all land and marine ani-
mals (4), already poses enormous chal-
lenges. Ensuring the safety of every availa-
ble plastic and chemical is impossible, as
their rates of appearance in the environment
exceed governments’ capacities to assess
associated risks and control problems (5).
Plastic pollutants have altered vital Earth
system processes to an extent that exceeds
the threshold under which humanity can sur-
vive in the future (i.e., the planetary bound-
ary) (5). Because legacy plastics in the envi-
ronment break down into micro- and
nanoparticles (6), this form of pollution is irre-
trievable and irreversible (6). In addition to
the risks for human and environmental
health, the whole life cycle of plastic accounts
for 4.5% of our current greenhouse gas
emissions (7) and could consume 10 to 13%
of our remaining CO2 budget by 2050 (8).
The growing production and inevitable emis-
sions of plastics will exacerbate these prob-
Failing to address production will lead to
more dependence on flawed and insufficient
strategies. Some waste management tech-
nologies, such as forms of thermal and
chemical recycling, cause socioeconomic
and environmental harm (9). Much of the
plastic waste is currently exported from the
North to the Global South, which poses a
substantial threat to marginalized and vulner-
able communities and their environments
(10). Even when applying all political and
technological solutions available today, in-
cluding substitution, improved recycling,
waste management, and circularity, annual
plastic emissions to the environment can
only be cut by 79% over 20 years; after 2040,
17.3 million tons of plastic waste will still be
released to terrestrial and aquatic environ-
ments every year (11). To fully prevent plas-
tic pollution, the path forward must include a
phaseout of virgin plastic production by 2040
Melanie Be rgmann1*, Bethanie Carney
Almroth2, Susanne M. Brander3, Tridibesh
4, Dannielle S. Green
5, Sedat Gundogdu6,
Anja Krieger7, Martin Wagner8, Tony R.
1Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar
and Marine Research, D-27570 Bremerhaven,
Germany. 2Department of Biological and
Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg,
Gothenburg, Sweden. 3Department of Fisheries,
Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences, Coastal Oregon
Marine Experiment Station, Oregon State University,
Corvallis, OR 97331, USA. 4Department of Sociology,
Philosophy, and Anthropology, University of Exeter,
Exeter EX4 4PY, UK. 5Applied Ecology Research
Group, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin
University, Cambridge CB1 1PT, UK. 6Faculty of
Fisheries, Cukurova University, 01330 Adana, Turkey.
7Berlin, Germany. 8Department of Biology, Norwegian
University of Science and Technology, Trondheim,
Norway. 9School for Resource and Environmental
Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2,
*Corresponding author. email@example.com
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1.United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations
Environment Programme, “End plastic pollution: Towards
an international legally binding instrument”
2.J. Geddie, V. Volcovici, J. Brock
M. Dickerson, “U.N. pact may
restrict plastic production: Big Oil aims to stop it" (Reu-
3.R. Geyer, in
Mare Plasticum—The Plastic Sea: Combatting
Plastic Pollution Through Science and Art,
chi, M. Cimadevila, W. Trettnak, Eds. (Springer Interna-
tional Publishing, Cham, 2020), pp. 31–47.
4.E. Elhacham, L. Ben-Uri, J. Grozovski, Y. M. Bar-On, R. Milo,
588, 442 (2020).
Environ. Sci. Technol.
56, 1510 (2022).
6.M. MacLeod, H. P. H. Arp, M. B. Tekman, A. Jahnke,
373, 61 (2021).
7.L. Cabernard, S. Pfister, C. Oberschelp, S. Hellweg,
5, 139 (2022).
8.L. A. Hamilton, S. Feit, "Plastic & Climate: The hidden costs
of a plastic planet" (Center for International Environmen-
tal Law, Washington, DC, 2019).
9.F. Demaria, S. Schindler,
48, 293 (2016).
10.C. Wang, L. Zhao, M. K. Lim, W.-Q. Chen, J. W. Sutherland,
Resour. Conserv. Recycl.
153, 104591 (2020).
11.W. W. Y. Lau
369, 1455 (2020).
373, 43 (2021).
S.M.B. has served as a cochair and microplas tics expert on an
advisory panel for the California Ocean Science Trust.