Every year, Delbert Pungowiyi’s community comes together to clean up the trash on the beach of his small island in Alaska.

“Name a country, any country. Their country washes up on our beaches,” Pungowiyi, a Yupik elder and leader from Sivuqaq, said at an international plastics treaty press briefing in Ottawa on Thursday.

“Plastic pollution, all kinds, from all over the world,” he added. “The oceans are in serious trouble, our Mother Earth is sick.”

The Arctic is a “hemispheric sink” for chemical and plastic pollution that arrives from all corners of the world, according to a new report from IPEN, an organization campaigning to end toxic chemical pollution.

Rapid global warming caused by greenhouse gases linked to fossil fuels is causing the region to warm at about four times the global average. This increases the speed of plastics travelling from other regions of the world. Warming also hastens the melting of permafrost and glaciers, which is releasing higher concentrations of chemicals in the Arctic.

Screenshot from The Arctic's Plastic Crisis report.

The amount of chemicals and plastics in the Arctic is now accumulating at dangerous levels in the ancestral food supply of Arctic Indigenous nations, Pamela Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), told reporters at the press briefing.

“Arctic Indigenous Peoples have some of the highest concentrations of persistent pollutants of any population on Earth because of this global transport and global distillation process,” she said, pointing to the world’s water systems leading into the Arctic.

More than 16,000 chemicals are used in plastics and 25 per cent are known to be toxic, while 66 per cent lack hazard information, according to the IPEN report.

The Arctic is a “hemispheric sink” for chemical and plastic pollution that arrives from all corners of the world, according to a new report from IPEN, an organization campaigning to end toxic chemical pollution. #Plastics #ForeverChemicals #Climate

Vi Waghiyi, environmental and justice program director at ACAT, is on the front lines in the Arctic. She speaks about how Arctic Indigenous Peoples across Alaska eat ancestral foods for spiritual and cultural health despite the risks of higher chemical and plastics pollution.

That’s why she calls the plastics and chemical crisis “environmental violence,” given their high accumulation in the ancestral Arctic food system.

It has led to higher rates of miscarriages and cancer. Waghiyi herself is a cancer survivor and has had three miscarriages. Now she campaigns, advocates and conducts community research that she presents worldwide.

She has been in Stockholm at the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants five times, and was appointed by U.S. President Joe Biden to sit on the Environmental Justice Advisory Board. Waghiyi is finally being heard, she told Canada’s National Observer.

“The burden of proof was put on my people,” she said.

It’s been just over two years since the world’s countries agreed to negotiate a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. Countries are trying to complete the treaty by the end of the year. This week’s negotiations in Canada is the fourth of five meetings, and Ottawa now finds itself at the centre of these discussions, wielding influence over what will be agreed.

The last round of discussions in November in Kenya failed to deliver on a number of key goals. There was no first draft of an agreement or plans to keep talking between meetings. That means countries are heading into this week with what’s called a “Zero Draft” — essentially, a long-winded text of placeholder options. The goal is to whittle it down to something usable.

If countries are going to meet their goal of agreeing to a global plastics treaty by the end of this year, tremendous progress will need to be achieved this week before Canada hands off duties to South Korea, which will host the fifth and final round of negotiations later this year.

Within negotiations, the Indigenous caucus is demanding the inclusion of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous knowledge systems and a production cap on existing plastics followed by production reductions, leaders told reporters on Thursday.

There were also calls for reparations within “sacrifice zones” disproportionately affected by plastics and petrochemicals.

— With files from John Woodside

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We're getting so many sacrificial zones it's getting hard to live anywhere that's unsacrified. Industry dominates government and ordinary people far removed from the problem suffer the consequences. We're setting up another one of these sacrificial watersheds here in Northern Ontario where the nuclear industry want to dump it's radioactive garbage underground.