The vast majority of the world's countries agreed to actively prevent plastic from entering the world’s oceans and to better manage plastic waste in general, according to the Guardian.
The signatories agreed to amend the Basel Convention, a United Nations treaty designed to fight hazardous waste, to include thousands of types of plastic. Because it’s being done through an already established framework, 186 countries will be legally bound to abide by the new rules.
Several countries, including the United States, did not agree to the measure, the UN announced Friday.
Regardless, the announcement means that nearly all the countries in the world will have to effectively manage plastic waste and prevent it from entering environments where it can cause harm.
“I’m proud that this week in Geneva, parties to the Basel convention have reached agreement on a legally binding, globally — reaching mechanism for managing plastic waste,” Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program, said in a statement. “Pollution from plastic waste, acknowledged as a major environmental problem of global concern, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 110 million tons of plastic now found in the oceans, 80 to 90% of which comes from land-based sources.”
The deal will go into effect in 1 year, Payet said, and it marks a landmark achievement for the United Nations, which has long sought global regulations on plastic. He added that the passage of the framework was helped by the global momentum around restricting plastic production.
In recent years, more than 60 countries have taken action to restrict plastic, and the European Union recently announced it would ban various single-use plastics.
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Public awareness of the problem has skyrocketed as well, following documentary series showing the problem of ocean pollution and news coverage of marine animals dying from ingesting plastic.
By classifying thousands of types of plastic as hazardous waste, the UN could create broad shifts toward sustainability in industries as diverse as healthcare and food production.