US backs international plastic pollution effort

The U.S. will back international talks to develop a treaty to curb plastic pollution, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS to send delegation to Vienna for Iran nuclear talks Defending Ukraine: US must offer military support not just economic threats Biden tries to tamp down tensions with Putin call MORE announced in Kenya on Thursday.

“[T]oday, we are stepping up and stepping up our efforts to tackle another pollutant that threatens our planet, plastic, by announcing the United States support for multilateral negotiations on a global agreement to combat ocean plastic pollution,” Blinken said Thursday at the United Nations Environment Program in Nairobi.

“By launching these negotiations at the UN Environmental Assembly in February 2022, our goal is to create a tool that we can use to protect our oceans and all of the life that they sustain from [the] growing global harms of plastic pollution,” he added.

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The secretary of state noted that human activity is estimated to add up to 14 million tons of plastic pollution to the ocean annually, some of which can take millions of years to fully degrade.

Blinken called on an international agreement to provide for countries to develop independent national action plans on plastic pollution. Treaties require ratification by the full Senate, where the Biden administration has frequently run up against opposition to environmental agenda items by Sen. Joe  Manchin (D-W.V.), the 50th Democratic vote.

Curbing plastic pollution has been a rare environmental issue where Republicans and Democrats found some common ground, with then-President TrumpDonald TrumpJury in Jussie Smollett trial begins deliberations Pence says he'll 'evaluate' any requests from Jan. 6 panel Biden's drug overdose strategy pushes treatment for some, prison for others MORE in 2018 signing into law a bill aimed at reducing marine plastic waste.

However, the Trump administration strongly opposed efforts to develop an international treaty, and the U.S. was not involved in international talks on the matter. In an August 2020 investigation, the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace claimed the American Chemistry Council was lobbying the White House to use a U.S.-Kenya trade agreement to expand plastic exports to the African nation.

An existing international treaty, the Basel Convention, regulates transfers of hazardous waste between nations, and was amended in 2019 to cover plastic waste. The U.S., which signed but never ratified the 1989 agreement, did not agree to the amendment.