IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

Seeking protection for people in plastics treaty for Cancer Alley

Jo Banner, an environmental justice activist in Louisiana, came to the plastics treaty talks in Kenya to try to convince negotiators to put more attention on how plastics pollution impacts vulnerable people.

The co-director of The Descendants Project, Banner took to the stage at a Nov. 12 forum on the sidelines of the talks to urge countries writing the details of the agreement to remember communities like hers, along petrochemical production zones in the Gulf Coast.

“My community has many titles, one of the titles you may have heard of is Cancer Alley,” she said. “That is because my area, the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, has the highest rate of cancer, the 95th percentile, in the United States.”

Banner and others, including New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, spoke at a forum in Nairobi organized by World Wildlife Fund and Beyond Petrochemicals to look at how the treaty should address climate and health impacts from plastics production, use and disposal.

A speaker from the International Pollutants Elimination Network said his group wants to make negotiators aware of research on toxic chemicals used in plastic products, like flame retardants and bisphenol-A, and how they can be recycled back into new products like children’s toys.

Griffins Ochieng, an IPEN steering committee member and program manager at the Centre for Environment, Justice and Development in Nairobi, said he was concerned about the current draft text of the treaty including consideration of minimum recycled content levels for plastic products.

“It concerns me when I see some of the solutions particularly being promoted, the continuing promotion of recycling as a solution into the treaty,” he said. “I don’t think it’s workable.”

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