National Harbor, Md. — The top U.S. negotiator on the global plastics treaty told an industry audience March 8 that last month's spill and burning of vinyl chloride monomer in an Ohio train wreck should be a "wake-up call" for a broad rethinking of plastics policy.
Monica Medina, the assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental affairs, told the Plastics Recycling Conference in a speech that the derailment in East Palestine in early February supports a "holistic" approach to plastics pollution that goes beyond recycling.
"If anything has brought this closer to home it's that train wreck in Ohio a couple of weeks ago that was carrying chemicals — toxic chemicals — to make plastics," Medina said. "I think that was another wake-up call to the U.S. that we need a more holistic approach that includes all of the above: reduce, reuse and recycling.
"We're thinking about sort of a multifaceted approach," she told the conference, held at the National Harbor convention center just outside Washington. "Recycling is a huge part of that, but we also need reuse and reduction."
Medina, who leads the U.S. delegation to the treaty talks, told the conference of 2,700 people that she wasn't there to "demonize" plastics and said it has "many vital applications," including in medical devices and making cars more energy-efficient.
But Medina outlined changes that, over time, she saw coming from the treaty that would help companies that recycle plastics, improve the U.S.'s "abysmal" plastics recycling rate and address concerns around toxic chemicals in plastics.
"We want to focus on plastic pollution," she said. "We need to take a comprehensive approach to combating it through the life cycle of plastics."
For the U.S., that means a heavy reliance in the treaty on national action plans countries to develop and publicly review at future global conferences, in a similar process to the Paris Climate Agreement.