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World agrees on first global commitment to curb single-use plastics

United Nations member states agreed on Friday to “significantly reduce” single-use plastics over the next decade.

The pledge came after marathon talks with nearly 200 ministers at the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Nations pledged to “address the damage to our ecosystems … including by significantly reducing single-use plastic products by 2030,” according to the summit’s final statement.

The move will seek to curb the use of single-use plastic products such as bags, cups, cutlery and drinking straws.

The final statement was issued on a day that saw thousands of students taking part in protests to urge world leaders to take action to combat climate change.

Read more: Warning: Smoking kills you — and the planet

US weakens final text

Although Friday’s agreement marks the first global commitment to curb plastics, environmentalist groups said the pledges do not go far enough to urgently address the growing pollution crisis that is threatening the world.

The final text of the document was also significantly weakened by the United States, according to negotiators.

Most nations, including the European Union members, backed a proposal by India that would have seen governments commit to “phasing out most problematic single-use plastics by 2025.”

Read more: Germany’s waste problem  Recycling isn’t enough

The United States led a few countries, including Saudi Arabia and Cuba, in a push to water down the text — resulting in the final declaration to “significantly reduce” plastics by 2030, negotiators and environmentalist campaigners said.

“It’s hard to find one solution for all member states,” said Siim Kiisler, UN assembly president.

“The environment is at a turning point. We don’t need verbose documents, we need concrete commitments,” he told journalists.

Some 500 billion disposable plastic bags are used worldwide each year, while one million plastic drink bottles are purchased every minute, the UN said.

Some 8 million tonnes (8.8 million US tons) of plastic leak into the ocean every year, threatening marine life and smothering reefs.

  • Marco Hort sets record with 259 straws stuffed in his mouth

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    Stop sucking

    Billions of plastic straws end up as waste. The European Union wants to ban these and other single-use plastics, which end up in rubbish dumps or in our oceans. But for those who just can’t stop sucking — like Marco Hort, who set a world record with 259 straws stuffed in his mouth — there are environmentally friendly alternatives.

  • Edible straw by Wisefood

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    Drink it, eat it

    Animals in the ocean often try to eat plastic straws. To protect the environment, you can now eat the straw yourself. The German startup Wisefood has developed an edible straw made out of the leftovers from Germany’s apple juice production. Alternatively, you can also acquire a multiple-use straw made from metal, bamboo or glass.

  • Man and woman eating fast food

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    We are forked!

    There are no exact numbers of how many plastic forks, knives and spoons are used once and then dumped. But it’s enough for the EU to want to say goodbye to them. If you need to eat on the run and can’t use metal silverware, you might try edible versions. The Indian startup Bakey’s offers forks made out of sorghum; the US company SpudWares, out of potato starch. Yummy!

  • Biodegradable plate made of bran

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    No leftovers

    Talking about eating your plastic alternatives: You might also like to try edible plates, since plastic plates will be on the way out under the EU’s ban. The Polish company Biotrem has developed plates made from bran. In case you are already full from your meal, don’t worry: The plates are organic and decompose after 30 days.

  • Women surrounded by used plastic cups

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    Cut the cup

    Besides banning the private use of disposable plastic products, the EU aims to encourage fast food chains, cafes and bars to curb the use of plastic cups. Half a trillion plastic cups are consumed every year — most of them being used for a single drink, then staying in the environment for eternity. Several companies now offer plant-based alternatives.

  • Bali Avani-Eco disposable cups

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    It’s not plastic

    One of those companies is the Balinese startup Avani. It has developed a compostable bioplastic made from corn starch. Although, the cups look and feel like petroleum-based plastic cups, they are biodegradable. However, they decompose best in a commercial composting facility, and not in your backyard

  • Just Swap It reusable cup

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    Reuse, reuse, reuse

    The easiest way to replace plastic cups is by using reusable mugs. But we might not always have our personal coffee cups on hand while we are out on the streets. Berlin is among German cities testing out a pilot project allowing coffee aficionados to borrow a reusable bamboo mug for a small deposit, and return it at another cafe at a later point.

  • Seahorse grasping ear bud with its tail - 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award

    Alternatives to single-use plastics

    Clean ears, dirty oceans

    Another plastic product the EU would see gone are ear buds. When disposed of improperly, they end up in the ocean, where animals mistake them for food. There are plastic-free alternatives with the stem made from bamboo or paper. But hardcore environmentalists say it’s best to stop using them altogether — you can use your towel to clean your ears.

    Author: Katharina Wecker


rs/aw (AFP, Reuters)

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