The American Chemistry Council is criticizing a major U.N. conference on the oceans for pushing bans or reductions in the use of some plastic products, saying it would have liked to see more attention on broader solutions to ocean pollution like improving waste management.
The comments from Washington-based ACC came as the United Nations wrapped up its first-ever conference on the health of the oceans June 9 in New York.
The five-day forum finished with a 22-point nonbinding statement from the 193 member countries, including a call for “long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, particularly plastic bags and single use plastics.”
ACC said the plastics industry is committed to preventing marine letter and praised the U.N. for the “tremendous work” of the conference, which ran from June 5-9, but expressed disappointment the event did not, in ACC’s view, put more emphasis on strengthening waste collection systems.
“We had hoped the outcomes would focus more on building political and financial support for improved waste management, or on deploying innovative recycling and energy recovery,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC.
“Recommendations to instead ban or reduce the use of specific products may give the illusion of progress, but in fact don’t help us solve the bigger problem,” he said.
While the conference dealt with a wide range of ocean problems, from overfishing, coastal acidification, sea-level rise and climate change, the afternoon of the first day included sessions that delved heavily into plastics.
A U.N. document summarizing that session, for example, noted that many countries made presentations on their efforts to reduce plastic use, including bags and other packaging, and microplastics, along with discussions about improving waste management.
In the leadup to the conference, the non-governmental organization Ocean Conservancy and its partners in the plastics industry unveiled a plan to raise $10 million by 2020 for research and public efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean.
ACC said the plastics industry has 260 projects around the world either planned or under way to reduce marine litter, and it said it was offering technical expertise to the U.N. It said plastics provide benefits like resource savings and preventing food waste.
“Solutions require the cooperation of industry, civil society and other stakeholders to effect meaningful change,” Russell said.