This Monday, June 5, will be the 51st celebration of World Environment Day (WED). This annual event was started in 1972 by the no less than the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. It was also on June 5 that the UNGA created the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN’s agency in charge of environmental affairs. This year’s WED will be hosted by Côte d'Ivoire, a West African country more popularly known as Ivory Coast, in partnership with the Netherlands.

In the Philippines, WED is observed not just for a day but for the whole month of June. This yearly observance started in 1988 when President Corazon C. Aquino signed proclamation No. 237 declaring the month of June as Philippine Environment Month.

This year’s WED commemoration will focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution. There are still no WED-related events posted on the DENR website but I’m pretty sure the agency will highlight the implementation of Republic Act 11898, or Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) law. This is the country’s answer to the plastic pollution problem. Companies covered by the law are required to recover their plastic packaging waste.

Plastic pollution is a global problem. According to UNEP, approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped. Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean.

While nations all over the world are addressing the plastic problem in their respective territories, an international agreement is being worked out. In March 2022, one hundred seventy five (175) member states of the UN endorsed a resolution at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

The UN Member States gave UNEP the mandate to convene the International Negotiating Committee (INC), the body tasked to develop the legally binding instrument. The INC aims to complete its work by the end of 2024, the time when the treaty would be ready for ratification.

The first session of the INC was held from November 28 to December 02 last year in Uruguay. The second session is being held as of this writing. It started last May 29 and will end today, June 2, at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris, France.

The UNEP launched a report entitled “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy” in the lead-up to the second INC session. The report proposes a systems change to address the causes of plastic pollution, combining reducing problematic and unnecessary plastic use with a market transformation towards circularity in plastics. This can be achieved by accelerating three key shifts – reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify – and actions to deal with the legacy of plastic pollution.