We live surrounded by plastic. A versatile material, derived largely from fossil fuels, plastics have numerous beneficial applications. From medical devices to food preservation to prevent waste, plastic is the most influential recent industrial development that has impacted households worldwide.

But over the past decades, we’ve abused it, extending its use to unnecessary functions. Plastic consumption has grown exponentially: global production has increased from two million tons in 1950 to nearly 500 million in 2023.

Everywhere around the world, we employ materials that take more than 500 years to degrade for uses lasting barely five minutes. We package and overpackage everyday items like water, fruit, meat and fish in plastic. We pack plastic containers in plastic.

There is plastic in the structure of our homes, in the frames of our cars, in the fibres of our clothes. We add chemicals that can be dangerous and combine them with non-recyclable polymers, making their reuse and recycling impossible. The global ecological footprint is permanent, and its accumulated impact is severe for the life of ecosystems and human health.

Plastic pollution in the ocean has multiplied tenfold since 1980. Eighty-five per cent of waste in the sea is plastic, threatening species conservation. Whales, dolphins and porpoises, seabirds and turtles mistake plastic litter for food or become entangled in it.

Even the most inaccessible habitats on the planet — from Antarctica to the Mariana Trench — are already affected by plastic degradation. Through the food chain, microplastics are also found in our bodies, with poorly understood consequences for human health.

Most plastics receive no treatment at the end of their short lifespan, so the waste accumulation problem is increasing. If we do not take urgent measures, the 11 million tons of plastic that enter the ocean annually will triple in the next 20 years.

Tackling a growing problem

The global problem of plastics pollution is worsening, but we have what it takes to respond to this challenge. We are seeing civil society organize large-scale cleanup campaigns to remove plastics from land, rivers and oceans.

Plastic pollution in the ocean has multiplied tenfold since 1980, write @s_guilbeault and @Teresaribera #INC4 #PlasticPollution #BeatPlasticPollution #ClimateAction #EarthDay2024

Successful companies have been established in partnership with fishing communities based on the collection and reuse of marine plastics. Through research and development, ecodesign avoids waste generation and helps improve its management.

Governments are developing rules for the safe maritime transport of plastic pellets. Co-operation among all these committed actors is part of the solution. But we will not end the problem of plastic pollution unless we think of solutions to address its large-scale production and consumption to sustainable levels. For global problems, global solutions.

On the multilateral front, the High Seas Treaty adopted in 2023 is historic and will help us protect marine biodiversity in international waters. Last December, the Dubai climate summit concluded with a decision laying the groundwork to transition away from fossil fuels.

In ongoing negotiations on the exploitation of seabed resources, we prioritize the precautionary principle to preserve our world heritage. In keeping with these advances, it is also time to act with the urgency and ambition necessary to protect the oceans and our broader environment from plastic pollution.

Agreeing to end plastic pollution

Two years ago, at the United Nations Environment Assembly, heads of state and ministers from 175 countries reached a historic resolution to forge a legally binding international agreement to end plastic pollution. This mandate, the result of multilateral co-operation at its highest level, urges us to complete the negotiations in 2024.

The global community welcomed this decision as this treaty will be the most significant since the signing of the Paris Agreement.

We cannot let them down.

This is the context in which today, on Earth Day, ministers and other high-level representatives are gathered in Ottawa ahead of the fourth round of negotiations. The scientific community has just held the Decade Conference for the Oceans in Barcelona. We have renewed, at the Our Ocean Conference in Athens, our government’s commitments to protecting marine reserves and biodiversity.

In June 2025, we are scheduled to meet in Nice for the next United Nations Conference on the Ocean with the aim of raising ambition in protection. That is our collective roadmap.

It is time to demonstrate our commitment and put on the table all the political capital required for the Ottawa meeting. In the coming weeks, our negotiators will have to significantly advance text on the scope, measures, financing mechanisms and timelines to end the wasteful use of plastic on a global scale. Their mandate is to pave the way so that this December, the world can celebrate the arrival of 2025 as the first year of the plastic-free ocean era.

Spain and Canada commit to being unwavering advocates and partners in this effort and look forward to using this opportunity to work with partners, civil society, Indigenous Peoples and industry to land this historic deal to end plastic pollution.

Later is too late.

Steven Guilbeault is Canada’s minister of environment and climate change and the head of Canada’s delegation as the host country for the INC-4 plastic waste treaty negotiating session.

Teresa Ribera is vice-president of the Government of Spain and minister for the ecological transition and the demographic challenge.

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THis is not a problem we can kick down the asphalt to our grandchildren. I lived without plastic as a young woman and would be happy to do so again. Learning to cook, and eat left overs the next day is part of the solution. Refusing to buy produce wrapped in plastic could be another. I'm perfectly capable of picking my own grapes...and tomatoes, out of the bins, as we did until recently. I don't need some flunky choosing for me and sealing that choice in single use plastic.
There's lots of room to get rid of the noxious stuff........instant garbage is not a convenience.

And thanks to our environment minister for taking the time to write this article.

No longer possible. Microplastics have taken hold. They are apparently in my blood and likely brain.
Then we have Premier Smith in Alberta promoting more plastic and businesses objecting to curbs as well as consumers forgetting to bring their reusable plastic bags to the grocer