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CSIRO 1CSIRO researchers explain the UN plastics treaty negotiations, Australia’s involvement and the role science can play to help end plastic waste.

CSIRO Ending Plastic Wate Mission Lead Dr Deborah Lau and Senior CSIRO scientist and plastic pollution expert Dr Denise Hardesty are available for interviews on this topic.

To arrange an interview with an expert on this topic, please contact Cass Erbs on 0412 730 635.

What is the UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution?

Dr Deborah Lau, CSIRO Ending Plastic Waste Mission Lead, says:

“Plastic pollution is now considered a planetary crisis. Countries from around the world are coming together to negotiate a global treaty to end plastic pollution, led by the United Nations Environmental Programme.

“The treaty resolution involves 175 nations that have agreed to develop a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by 2024. The treaty will address the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

“Australia is pursuing a legally binding instrument with a focus on the entire life cycle of plastics. This will support a circular economy, reduce problematic and unnecessary plastics, and accelerate the removal of harmful chemicals from product supply chains.

“Our science is helping to inform the Australia government on the extent of plastic pollution in our environment and solutions to tackle it.”

Dr Denise Hardesty, Senior CSIRO Scientist and plastic pollution expert, says:

“Plastic production is expected to double by 2040. This is unsustainable, as it impacts marine life, ecosystems and human health.

“The development of a treaty on this scale demonstrates the importance of reducing the impacts of plastic waste globally. CSIRO science is helping to inform Australia and other countries on how to overcome challenges for managing plastic waste.

“This includes extensive monitoring to understand the scope and scale of the issue. This will help identify socially, culturally, economically and environmentally appropriate solutions.”

Why is plastic pollution under the spotlight?

Dr Deborah Lau, CSIRO Ending Plastic Waste Mission Lead, says:

“Plastic is used for a range of useful products. We use it every day – in technology, in hospitals and it keeps our food safe. But we need to ensure that instead of it becoming waste, we can use the plastic again and again. This will reduce environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions, and build circular economy opportunities.

“The treaty will hold countries accountable for their plastic production and waste. It will outline the adoption of sustainable production and use of plastics. This includes product design, environmental waste management, resource efficiency and circular economy approaches.”

Dr Denise Hardesty, Senior CSIRO Scientist and plastic pollution expert, says:

“Plastic pollution is a global problem. Our throwaway culture sends millions of tonnes of plastic waste to landfill every year. We continually see beaches littered with rubbish. Marine life mistake plastic waste as food or become entangled, sometimes dying as a consequence.

“Research estimates that there are trillions of pieces of plastic pollution in our oceans. This has significant consequences for our environment and marine life.

“We need to look at solutions that addresses the entire plastic supply chain. This will help turn plastic waste into a resource.”

What is the objective of the treaty?

Dr Deborah Lau, CSIRO Ending Plastic Waste Mission Lead, says:

“The objective of the treaty is to end plastic pollution and protect human health and the environment from its adverse effects throughout the life cycle of plastic.
“The second negotiations happening now will see governments work out the content and logistics of the plastic treaty.”

Dr Denise Hardesty, Senior CSIRO Scientist and plastic pollution expert says:

“The treaty will help to change our relationship with plastics. It will help to shift the design of plastic so it is more sustainable, and isn’t just discarded or considered a waste after one use.”

What role does CSIRO have?

Dr Denise Hardesty, Senior CSIRO Scientist and plastic pollution expert says:

“CSIRO has decades of experience in researching the sources, movement, and impact of plastic waste on marine life, communities, and ecosystems. Our research is providing critical knowledge and data to understand how much and the types of rubbish ending up in our environment, and how to stop it getting there in the first place.

“Our research has found that three quarters of the rubbish found along Australian beaches is plastic. We also found that interventions, such as container deposit schemes, reduced beverage containers ending up in the environment by 40 per cent. Our research has also found that it can take just one piece of rubbish to kill a turtle.

“We are developing innovative solutions, including smart sensor systems and machine learning approaches, to better understand and mitigate the negative consequences of plastic waste ending up in the environment.”

Dr Deborah Lau, CSIRO Ending Plastic Waste Mission Lead, says:

“We are developing a broad range of scientific and technological solutions for the entire plastics supply chain to support government and industry initiatives, eliminate litter and divert plastic waste into a resource to build Australia’s circular economy.

“We are on a mission to reduce 80 per cent of plastic waste entering the Australian environment by 2030. Avoidance is the most effective action. But we’re also focused on changing the way we make, use, recycle and dispose of plastics.

“We can’t do it alone. We need to draw upon expertise on plastic pollution, particularly from other world leading scientists, technical experts, and First Nations people and the communities who experience the impacts of plastic pollution across the world.”

What stage is at the treaty at?

Dr Deborah Lau, CSIRO Ending Plastic Waste Mission Lead, says:

“The treaty was first endorsed in March 2022 at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi.

“The first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) meeting to develop the legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, took place in Uruguay from 28 November to 2 December 2022.

“The second INC to further develop a new global treaty to end plastic pollution is being held this week (29 May-2 June 2023) in Paris, France. This meeting is an opportunity for Australia and other countries to identify the measures for inclusion in the treaty being developed to stop plastic from polluting our environment. Australia will be present.”

Fast facts:

  • Plastic pollution in our oceans accounts for an estimated 80 per cent of marine litter.
  • Three-quarters of the rubbish found along Australia’s coastlines is plastic.
  • It’s estimated that there are trillions of pieces of floating plastic on the ocean’s surface, and 14 million tonnes of microplastics on the seafloor.
  • Every Australian generates an average of 101 kilograms of plastic waste per year, including 59 kilograms of single-use plastic waste.
  • More than 700 marine species are impacted by plastic. Our research shows it takes just one piece of plastic to kill a turtle.
  • Global plastic use is estimated to double by 2040.
  • Soft plastics, such as plastic bags, are the biggest plastic killer of marine life.
  • If Australia increased its recycling rate of all waste by 5 per cent this would add an estimated $1 billion to Australia’s GDP.
  • CSIRO is on a mission to end plastic waste, with a goal of an 80 per cent reduction in plastic waste entering the Australian environment by 2030.
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