G20 agrees landmark international deal to tackle plastic waste polluting world’s oceans

Harry Cockburn

A landmark deal designed to reduce soaring levels of plastic waste polluting the world’s oceans has been agreed by the world’s most industrialised nations.

Environment and energy ministers from the G20 countries agreed to adopt a voluntary framework for reducing plastic litter, which includes strategies designed to assist developing countries.

The delegates from the group of 20 countries, which make up about 85 per cent of global GDP, met this weekend in Karuizawa, northwest of Tokyo, ahead of the G20 summit, which will take place in Osaka, western Japan, later this month.

The issue of plastic waste in our seas has gained prominence in recent years as pollution levels have soared and increasing evidence of the damage being done to wildlife is recorded.

Beaches strewn with tonnes of plastic waste and rapidly rising numbers of dead animals found with stomachs full of plastic have sparked outrage across the world.

As a result many countries have moved to ban plastic bags outright, but levels of waste still going into the sea are enormous.

According to estimates published by the UK government, every year more than 150 million tonnes of plastic waste pollute the world’s oceans.

Around a million birds and more than 100,000 sea mammals die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

The growth in single-use consumer plastics has fuelled the surge in plastic pollution. It is estimated there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris, and a recent report estimates the quantity of plastic in the sea will treble by 2025.

Around 40 per cent of plastics are thought to enter the waste stream in the same year they’re produced.

Under the new framework drawn up in Japan, G20 members will promote a “comprehensive life-cycle approach” to prevent and reduce plastic litter discharge to the oceans through various measures and international cooperation.

They will also have to report their progress in tackling the problem, and “share best practices, promote innovation and boost scientific monitoring and analytical methodologies”.

“I’m glad that we, including emerging countries and developing countries, were able to form a broad international framework,” Yoshiaki Harada, Japan’s environment minister, told a news conference.

Hiroaki Odachi of Greenpeace Japan described the deal as “the first step towards resolving the issue”, AFP reports.

“But given the critical situation of ocean pollution with plastics, it is urgently necessary to set up legally binding action plans with clear timelines and goals,” he added.

Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who co-hosted the discussions with Mr Harada, said Japan would aim to introduce a charge for disposable plastic shopping bags by as early as April to help reduce waste.

Additional reporting by Reuters