Plastic pollution and corporate retaliation

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The UN Environment Assembly that took place in early March in Nairobi, Kenya made a so-called ‘historic’ resolution. The Assembly brought together representatives from 175 countries with the resolution being adopted within three days of meeting. The resolution called for environmental policies to be put in place covering the full lifecycle of plastics i.e., from production to disposal. This is arguably the first time that world leaders have properly attempted to tackle the plastic problem from all angles.

In addition, this environmental agreement is the first to recognise waste pickers. Waste pickers are workers in developing nations who scavenge for recyclable plastic and other valuable scraps they can sell. This sector of informal work includes millions of people, and the recognition means that protection of their rights is ensured. This agreement has been labelled as ‘the most significant environmental multilateral deal’ since the Paris Climate Accord. World leaders now have until 2024 to devise a plastic pollution plan and a means to bring it to fruition.

‘The most significant environmental multilateral deal’ since the Paris Climate Accord

Despite the supposed success of this resolution, not all environmental pledges have been as strong. The COP26 had mixed outcomes with some deeming it a success, whilst others felt as though it fell short. One of the biggest goals it established was its pledge to end deforestation by 2030. This goal is to be met by attempting to cut out commodities from deforested lands from supply chains. Initially, this was met with a bit of scepticism, as a previous deal attempting to stop deforestation in 2014 failed to slow the problem at all.

There were also question marks over how the proposed policies were to be effectively carried out. How are funders supposed to check that forests are being protected in a way that doesn’t impose on national sovereignty? If a company is selling meat from animals that were raised on imported soy grown on deforested land does this breach legislation?

The dubiousness of the goal and its coinciding policies has only been exacerbated over the past few days. The European Commission’s plan to separate commodities such as coffee, cocoa etc. that were linked to deforestation and stop them from entering the EU market, has been undermined. A letter, from trade associations representing five of the biggest agribusinesses, has been attempting to dissuade the EU from drawing such a harsh line.

They claim that this policy would lead to a huge increase in food prices and major availability problems. Instead, they are calling for a system that allows ‘sustainable volumes’ of commodities along supply chains. This, however, would mean that the deforestation pledge at COP26 would be made completely redundant. The irony of the situation worsens when one realises that the same companies calling for the EU to weaken their policy are the ones who actually signed the pledges at the COP26.

Change will only ever come if what companies pledge in public is enforced in private

Change will only ever come if what companies pledge in public is enforced in private. Companies are incessantly trying to find loopholes and ways around environmental legislation that could mean a decrease in revenue and profit. An area of forest the size of 27 football pitches is currently being lost every minute to deforestation. In order to put in place effective goals and regulations, international organizations must enforce corporate responsibility.

Both parties need to work together to ensure that the environment is being protected. In order for this partnership to work effectively, international organisations must put in place sanctions on companies that do not follow environmental laws and regulations. They must make these companies realise that if they do not become environmentally friendly they will begin to face severe losses and retributions for their actions.

Image: CaptainDarwin via Wikimedia Commons

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