Climate Confident

Breaking Free from Plastic: A Global Mission for Change

March 13, 2024 Tom Raftery / Aidan Charron Season 1 Episode 161
Breaking Free from Plastic: A Global Mission for Change
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Climate Confident
Breaking Free from Plastic: A Global Mission for Change
Mar 13, 2024 Season 1 Episode 161
Tom Raftery / Aidan Charron

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In this thought-provoking episode of the Climate Confident Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Aidan Charron, the Director of End Plastic Initiatives at EarthDay.org. Aidan shared insightful perspectives on the challenges and solutions surrounding plastic pollution, a matter that's increasingly becoming a global concern.

We delved into the origins and mission of EarthDay.org, highlighting its impactful journey from its inception in 1970 to becoming a leading voice in environmental activism. Our discussion ventured into the depths of plastic's pervasiveness in our daily lives, underlining the significant health risks and environmental detriments it poses. Aidan elaborated on the startling statistics and research findings that reveal the severity of microplastics' infiltration into our ecosystems and our bodies, illuminating the urgent need for change.

A pivotal part of our conversation centred around the strategies to combat plastic pollution, including policy advocacy, public awareness, and the push for international collaboration through initiatives like the global plastics treaty. Aidan's expertise shed light on the complexity of this issue, offering hope through actionable insights and underscoring the power of collective action.

As we navigate these discussions, it's clear that confronting plastic pollution requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing regulatory reform, innovative alternatives, and a shift in public consciousness. Join us in exploring the path towards a more sustainable and plastic-free future, and discover how you can contribute to this crucial cause.

For more insights and to get involved, visit EarthDay.org, and let's embark on this journey together towards making a tangible impact.


And don't forget to check out and subscribe to the video version of this podcast at htt

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I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's amazing supporters:

  • Lorcan Sheehan
  • Hal Good
  • Jerry Sweeney
  • Andreas Werner
  • Devaang Bhatt
  • Stephen Carroll
  • Marcel Roquette
  • Roger Arnold

And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Climate Confident episodes like this one.

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If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show.

Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send me a message

In this thought-provoking episode of the Climate Confident Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Aidan Charron, the Director of End Plastic Initiatives at EarthDay.org. Aidan shared insightful perspectives on the challenges and solutions surrounding plastic pollution, a matter that's increasingly becoming a global concern.

We delved into the origins and mission of EarthDay.org, highlighting its impactful journey from its inception in 1970 to becoming a leading voice in environmental activism. Our discussion ventured into the depths of plastic's pervasiveness in our daily lives, underlining the significant health risks and environmental detriments it poses. Aidan elaborated on the startling statistics and research findings that reveal the severity of microplastics' infiltration into our ecosystems and our bodies, illuminating the urgent need for change.

A pivotal part of our conversation centred around the strategies to combat plastic pollution, including policy advocacy, public awareness, and the push for international collaboration through initiatives like the global plastics treaty. Aidan's expertise shed light on the complexity of this issue, offering hope through actionable insights and underscoring the power of collective action.

As we navigate these discussions, it's clear that confronting plastic pollution requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing regulatory reform, innovative alternatives, and a shift in public consciousness. Join us in exploring the path towards a more sustainable and plastic-free future, and discover how you can contribute to this crucial cause.

For more insights and to get involved, visit EarthDay.org, and let's embark on this journey together towards making a tangible impact.


And don't forget to check out and subscribe to the video version of this podcast at htt

What If? So What?
We discover what’s possible with digital and make it real in your business

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Support the Show.

Podcast supporters
I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's amazing supporters:

  • Lorcan Sheehan
  • Hal Good
  • Jerry Sweeney
  • Andreas Werner
  • Devaang Bhatt
  • Stephen Carroll
  • Marcel Roquette
  • Roger Arnold

And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Climate Confident episodes like this one.

Contact
If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - get in touch via direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn.

If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show.

Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Aidan Charron:

We have bioplastics, but those bioplastics, are they any safer than what we consider a normal plastic? We need more regulation on these materials before starting and just running with them. Like if we wanna start making banana leaf plastic for everybody, we have to make sure that it's not gonna lead to some giant economic and ecological disaster 10 years down the road that we're seeing with plastic now.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 161 of the climate confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off today's show, I just want to let you know that today we are talking to Aiden Charron from earth day.org. It's going to be a really interesting episode talking about plastics. And in the coming weeks next week, for example, I'll be talking to Thomas Kiessling a CTO at Siemens. The week after that Laird Christensen from Prescott University. And the week after that, Katie Martin from Avetta, where we'd be talking about emissions reporting. But back to today's show. And I would like to just take a quick second to express my sincere gratitude. To all of this podcasts, amazing supporters. Your support has been instrumental in keeping this podcast going. And I am really grateful for each and every one of you. If you're not already supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable. With options starting as low as just three euros or dollars a month. That's less than the cost of your latte. And your support makes a huge difference in keeping the show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode. Or visit. Tiny url.com/climate pod. Now. Without further ado. With me on the show today, I have my special guests, Aidan. Aidan. Welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, sure thing. So my name is Aidan Charron. I'm the Director of End Plastic Initiatives at EarthDay.org. My work is mostly focused on plastic policy, both internationally, nationally, and locally.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and tell me a little bit about Earth day.org. What is that?

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, so EarthDay.org was formed from the first Earth Day that started in 1970 by our Board Chair Emeritus Dennis Hayes and a group of young senators started out with some teach-ins in the 1970s, and it has expanded into what it is today. We saw some terrible environmental issues here in the US, This is kind of what led to us having both the EPA, the Clean Water and Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and just kind of bringing to light that there are solutions to the environmental issue and those solutions are people based. So people need to be aware of what's going on. And from there we've expanded. Starting in the 1990s, we went international. Today we are one of the largest, if not the largest civil, civil society protest mobilization Day in the world. And Earth Day takes place every year on April 22nd. This year, our theme is focused on People versus Plastic. So we're trying to unite people around the fact that plastic is inevitable. It is everywhere, but it is a danger to both our health and the environment's health.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And why? As in, you know, when I was a, a kid in school, I had a plastic pen that I used to chew on and I'm still here. You know, how, how bad is plastic really?

Aidan Charron:

So, yeah, it's a, it's a growing issue. The amount of plastic production has been on the rise since it came around in the 1950s. It wasn't as ubiquitous as it is today, but today we're starting to see, and research is suggesting that the health implications presented by both microplastics and the chemicals used within plastics. So the plasticizers, your BPAs that you hear about your phalates, which I studied chemistry and studied biology all through college, and I still cannot pronounce Phalates correctly, so forgive me for that. But we're starting to see, there's evidence that microplastics are interrupting maternal fetal communication, potentially damaging DNA. Some studies are also reporting a link between microplastic ingestion and ADHD. Some others are linking it to rises in autism in young children, and also we're starting to see a sharp up rise in cancer, including in the prostate gland of fetuses. One of the largest issues with the cancer as well is it hurts a lot of frontline communities. So a lot of these plastic production plants and petrochemical plants are built on land that is owned by our poorer communities, and therefore they're the ones taking most of the brunt of this damage.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. In your opening though as well, you said plastic is inevitable and I see you're drinking from a plastic bottle. Sorry for calling you out on that, but how, how do we get away from it?

Aidan Charron:

It's extremely difficult. so plastic is a cheap material. It is also a material that has the backing of a trillion dollar industry essentially. So what a lot of people don't realize is that plastic is petroleum. Plastic is fossil fuels. 99% of plastic is made up from the same stuff that inevitably leads to our fuels in cars. That doesn't sound that great and it isn't that great and it's also super understudied. And one of the best ways that we can start transitioning away from that is calling for reduction in production. So EarthDay.org is calling for a 60% in reduction of plastics by 2040. Others are calling for a more ambitious, we're hoping it's gonna be more ambitious than 60%. And some of the ways that we can start doing that is by pushing both our local legislators, our state legislators, our national legislators, and then our international legislators on this issue. One of the things going around is the Global Plastics Treaty. So we're starting those ne, well, those negotiations started in late 2022 with the UN AA five 14 resolution to start the negotiations themselves. And those negotiations are supposed to run until the end of this year. Earth Day happens to coincide with the next meeting. So we plan on attending that next meeting in Ottawa, Canada to kind of push for the strongest treaty and the treaty that's gonna be most helpful for both human and environmental health.

Tom Raftery:

What would that entail?

Aidan Charron:

That would entail cutting back production, more monitoring of chemicals of concern, as well as restrictions on chemicals of concern, as well as a focus on the health aspects of plastic. I started off this conversation talking about all the things that we're starting to see, but it's such an under researched you know, topic that we can't really give too much credence to it. It's similar to what tobacco and asbestos was back in the sixties, seventies. We knew it's harmful, but we didn't know just how harmful it is. So I'm expecting in the next 10 years or so that we're gonna be like, how the hell could we have been putting this on everything? How the hell could we have been letting our dogs chewing on it, our baby's teeth on it? Why am I drinking out of a plastic water bottle? Why am I just letting this material take over my life, despite it being so toxic to me? Our hope from this treaty is that more investments will go into that research as well as start curbing back, that plastic production to prevent there from being more introduced in the future.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And you mentioned chemicals of concern. What are those?

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, so chemicals of concern. Plastic isn't just one material, essentially. It's, it's thousands upon thousands of chemicals thrown together to give it its different appliances. Like my phone case is made up of one type of plastic. My water bottle is made up another type of plastic because of the chemicals introduced. A lot of these are called plasticizers. Those are ones that are, make it more flexible. If those include pthalates, vinyl chloride is one of those things. It's just these different chemicals have different properties that are introduced to plastic to allit ow to do different things. Some make it more rigid, others make it more flexible give it its color. And the issue with those chemicals is they're just not really regulated. We don't really know what they are. And then as soon as somebody can start regulating one chemical, and if you start putting you know, bans on this certain chemical. What industry can do is kind of tweak the formula a little bit so they can take one little molecule way down the line, tweak it a little bit. It's not gonna change the chemical properties, but it's gonna put it through a whole new set of regulations and give them another 10 years of using this thing. The US has recently started looking into just five chemicals of concern that are related to plastic, and they're patting themselves on the back saying, Hey, we're doing it. We're really starting to get into it. But that's five out of at least 6,000 chemicals. And that took, you know. 20 years of lobbying, 20 years of pushing for them to start doing something in the bare minimum they came up with, and I think the only reason they really started looking at it is due to the East Palestine, Ohio case where the train derailed and we saw vinyl chloride started flooding. We saw the giant plume of smoke rising up and kind of brought attention to like, oh, we're using this material considering it inert. But you know, why is there hazmat teams rushing out there? Why is there a giant explosion? We have to start worrying about these, and I think that's one way that both the government and industry is trying to cover its tracks..

Tom Raftery:

Okay. I saw earlier today, a video, and I could be well wrong on this 'cause I saw it on the internet and as we know, but

Aidan Charron:

I trust everything I read I

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, but this, this was a video of the filters that are used in cigarettes, in standard cigarettes, just the, the, the butts as we call them. And it showed how they are actually what contribute enormously to microplastics because when they get the smoke in them, they become more brittle. They break down, they've taken in these carcinogenic substances from the cigarettes, and they are microplastics, which I was unaware of, which surprised me is, was that, is that true? First of all, I guess considering there's a lot of cigarette butts out there.

Aidan Charron:

Yes. So, cigarette butts are the highest by count of pollution. And I say by count because by weight they don't weigh a lot. Plastic doesn't weigh a lot. When you try to measure out how much plastic is being produced, you can use a weight estimate, but inevitably it's lighter than steel. So obviously you're gonna have more. But per pieces, I think cigarette butts, and I don't, I believe this stat is correct, it's 5 trillion cigarette butts enter into our environment every year. And What cigarette butts are typically made of is something called cellulose acetate, which sounds like, oh, that sounds natural cellulose sounds natural cell plant. But in reality, it's just a, you know, pitch podge of different chemicals thrown together to create a filter that doesn't do anything. Filters were introduced as a, like lifesaving thing for cigarettes, but in reality it doesn't do much. Recently there was cop 10 for WHO FCTC. So that's kind of they frame. The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Tom Raftery:

Okay.

Aidan Charron:

It concluded a couple weeks ago kind of focusing on that, and they declared that cigarette butts are an avoidable thing, an avoidable plastic essentially. So it points to the pollution of soil and water resources by waste from tobacco products and related electronic devices. So that means those vapes that we've kind of transitioned into or the younger generations transitioning into. I will be guilty. I used to smoke. I used to vape. It took a big toll. But including filters of cigarettes as well as batteries, plastic cartridge, and metals are all pointed to have environmental effects. so we're starting to see some push from international organizations on curtailing cigarette butts. And then some local municipalities have started to ban on cigarette butts, but it's just slow moving. The tobacco industry has giant amounts of money and they just finished, I think they celebrated 25 years of a lawsuit that was kind of holding them accountable for introducing smoking to all of our kids. But we're still seeing their huge hold on you know, at least American society. And then I know the amount of smoking is increasing in the global south, especially.'cause I saw the market falling in countries like the US countries like Europe, or sorry, continents like Europe. So they're focusing more on poorer communities.

Tom Raftery:

Lovely, lovely. So we have two villains in this, in this scenario, the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry.'cause as you said, they're 99% fossil fuels. That's, that's two big groups that have massive war chests. How do we, how do we fight against that?

Aidan Charron:

it's just a matter of, we, we have to be louder and there's, they may have more money. The fossil fuel industry and the tobacco industry may have more money than a lot of other industries, but there's definitely gonna be less people and there's definitely gonna be a greater impact on those that don't have that amount of money. So it's just a matter of getting people to recognize that these industries aren't good for them and just pushing them to start speaking out on it. That could be something, and I know this is like a cliche, but talking to your dinner table and just being like, Hey. What if we try to cut down on our plastics, or why don't we reach out to our local person and see what they're doing around plastics? In the US plastic bag bans have been pretty successful in their areas on curtailing plastic. I came from an area that introduced bag bands, you know? 15 years ago, I wanna say. How old am I? Yeah, so around 15 years ago. And then we saw this massive drop in the amount of plastic bags floating around on the beach, floating around in our marshes. And then the some local businesses came together like, Hey, we wanna reintroduce plastic bags, and within one year, we're just seeing those plastic bags just cover our natural landscapes again. And that's where our money was coming from. I come from a tourist town that relies on the natural beauty of the area. That's. How I fell into this work now. So it's just a matter of people need to start speaking out and realize we don't need that. Like there are alternatives. We can have different reusable bags, we can have, you don't need a plastic bag for a chicken cutlet. That's not necessary. It's just, it's become so weird how much it's overtaken everything. You can't go to the grocery store without touching plastic. Unless you're going there to buy, you know, an orange maybe, but then it's gonna have a sticker thrown on it that's considered food safe or edible. But I guarantee it's made up of some sort of plastic. So it just, there needs to be a huge call out on these industries to start transitioning away and start looking, you know, towards the past even for some things. We don't need all this plastic. We don't need to be wrapping everything in 17 layers of plastic that we don't even know if it's Allowing for greater preservation. We're just assuming it does because it looks cleaner. You know, following the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a huge uprise in plastic 'cause everybody viewed it as cleaner, but I mean, things stick to it. It's not like It's this material that just brushes everything off. So

Tom Raftery:

and just, just as a matter of interest. A lot of food, as you said, comes wrapped in plastic, including stuff that's to be microwaved. How safe is it to microwave food in plastic packaging?

Aidan Charron:

I probably not great, there's, I, I can't, I can't say explicitly that it's terrible for you. And I also don't wanna just like, cause fear mongering, although most of my work is just reading over articles upon article that really just bums me out every day. But I don't want to scare everybody in thinking they need to throw away whatever plastic microwave material they have in their freezer. I mean, I use it. It's convenient, it's easy, and that's what makes it so difficult to move away from it. I've gotten better over the years, but it's, there's gonna be issues that arise from plastic. Like I think one of the things that scares people the most, it kind of scares your male viewership the most is that we're starting to see a link of plastic between, you know, smaller penis sizes. We're starting to see a link of plastic to impotence. We're starting to see it link to lower fertility rates, and all of that is connected to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Those chemicals of concern are part of that and some of the materials introduced into these plastics. So microwaving that is just gonna kind of leach it directly into your food, which is scary, but. If you can avoid it, try to avoid it. If you can meal prep a little bit better, or use it actually inert material or what we believe to be an actually inert material that doesn't have all these chemicals introduced such as glass. I try to transition that way. We did a pretty mass, you know, breakdown of my kitchen and we're like, we need to get rid of all these plastic Tupperwares because they're terrible for us. I will be pretty hypocritical if I don't start cutting down my plastic if I'm the End Plastics Director. So that's, that's what our focus is there. So don't. Don't freak yourself out. Just understand that there's gonna be some bad news coming out about plastics and microwaving it probably isn't great for you, but neither is using, you know. A plastic spoon when boiling water. But the good thing about a lot of these plastics, and a lot of these chemicals is if you start transitioning them out of your lifestyle, they start leaving your body. So they're not permanent. The damage isn't permanent. You know, I think with some certain chemicals like lead, it's a heavy metal that kind of gets into your bones. It replaces calcium in your bones and builds up that way. With these plastic chemicals, from our understanding, as of now, it starts to dissipate as you move away from those materials, which is great, which is good news. That means that, you know, 20, 30 years from now, if you start using less plastic, you'll have less of those chemicals that may cause some issues down the road.

Tom Raftery:

Nice, nice. And you mentioned, the, the legislation, like the plastic bag ban in your town back around 15 years ago. I'm originally from Ireland. And if I remember correctly, Ireland was the first country to initiate a plastic bag ban back in around, I wanna say 2005, that kind of ballpark. And what it, what they did in Ireland was they put a levy on plastic bags, disposable plastic bags in shops, and it was small, I can't remember, it was like 15 euro cent per plastic bag or something like that. But the use of plastic bags dropped 95% overnight, it was impressive. It really was the effect that it had. And more recently, I live in Spain now more recently Spain has enacted legislation on plastic packaging as well, where it's the, producer who pays for the disposal of the plastic at end of life. And I've seen a, I've seen an interesting change in the plastic packaging here in the country in the last less than 12 months in that, for example, if I go to one of the local shops to get a six pack of cans of beer, they're now no longer held together with plastic rings. They're now held together with cardboard rings and similarly, the plastic bottles for the likes of milk. They now have a top, which when you open, it stays on the bottle, so you can't, you, you, can't actually physically take it off so that it means when you go to recycle the bottle. The top isn't lost and it's all recycled as a single unit. So there's, there's been some interesting innovations in the packaging that way. So, you know, to your point, legislation can work wonders. We just need more of it.

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, we need more of it. And then it's also just a matter of driving the market through legislation, which I know can be scary to some people. Some people don't want any regulations on the market. I understand that. My parents are small business owners and they hate when I start griping on about more regulation. But it, it can lead to some serious change. I didn't realize that there was a 15 what? 15

Tom Raftery:

Euro?

Aidan Charron:

Euro Euro cent. Okay. That's higher than what it is currently, where I live in Washington, DC we have a 5 cent tax is what they call it on our bags. I mean, some areas probably have higher ones, but it's just one part of making it less convenient to use plastic, and therefore you're gonna drive people away from plastic. Therefore, the market's gonna have to shift eventually. People are gonna have to come up with different materials. If we keep educating people on both the dangers of plastic and how expensive it can be to actually dispose of plastic and then the eventual healthcare cost down the road. A study recently came out that every year$250 billion in the US alone are invested towards issues with plastic and health. That includes the cancers and the endocrine disruption and the hormonal issues. Every, every single thing I mentioned earlier, is leading to these huge healthcare costs. So if we start transitioning away, we're gonna save money in the long run, both from the producer and the consumer side, because somebody's gonna have to pay for it. I am pushing for that. It's the producer responsibility that you're, that you mentioned. Just making sure that the companies that are putting in and out have to pay for the cleanup of it. They have to pay for the transition away from it. I mean, it's the, it's the only thing we can do is just start transitioning away from plastic. I, I know I keep harping on that, but it's what we, it's what we need to focus on.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. Well, it, it, it's what you said at the start about it being cheap. So if we actually change the market so it's no longer cheap because, It's cheap because the producers don't have to pay for it. But if we make them have to pay for its disposition, you know, bring the externalities in and now make it part of, now you do have to actually pay for the, the whole life cycle of it, then it doesn't become as cheap. It's less economically attractive. And therefore, we might find some replacement solutions. There's a, an interesting, I mentioned Ireland and plastic bags. Back in, as I said, I was around 2005, but this year, 2024. Ireland has rolled out some more legislation around recycling, and it's for both plastic and tins. And when I say tins, I mean aluminum cans, for food and drink. And basically what's happened is across the country, they've rolled out thousands of these machines that will take back plastic bottles and take back tins and reimburse the people who put the plastic tin plastic cans or tin cans or plastic bottles or whatever it is into the machine. They get a voucher out which they can redeem in the shop, either for more goods or for cash. And so the studies say that currently recycling levels in Ireland are about 15% for plastic, and they expect it to go above 80% in this kind of scenario. So it, it should make a, a big change. I, I remember similar models from when I was a kid, back in the, the late seventies, early eighties. There was, you could take glass bottles back to shops and get cash in your hand I think was like 5p at the time for every glass bottle. So obviously as kids, we used to go around trying to find glass bottles everywhere so that we could get money on them. So I'm hoping something like that will happen with the plastic and the tin cans as well in Ireland now.

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, I mean we've seen a similar kind of rise in that in the US at least. I mean, the US has abysmal plastic recycling rates. I believe it's, it's 9% internationally for the amount of plastic that's recycled technically. That number is a little bit skewed, because some countries consider incineration of plastic for a fuel source as recycling plastic. But in the US we, we only have about 5% of plastics are recycled, but there is a higher success rate in recycling for states that have introduced a bottle return bill or a bottle deposit bill, such as Oregon, Washington, and New York. And I think California is pushing some legislation through to do the same thing. And it just incentivizes people to kind of focus more on their waste. But one of the issues with plastic again, is that the amount of chemicals used with them, so they can't all be recycled equally. And then even when you do recycle plastic, there are some issues with the waste leaching. So microplastics are a scary word that hasn't been around for very long, but it's just this tiny little microscopic plastic essentially that can just break down either naturally from UV rays weathering. Or it's part of what makes up plastic at the end, these plastic nurdles that are used to form bottles at the end of it. But what we saw in a study in the UK was as the recycling was going through for these plastic bottles, the water used to push everything through was picking up giant amounts of microplastic that the filters weren't catching. So just going right back out into the, into the waterways. Maybe not as a bottle that people can see, but it is something that is interrupting everything at the food chain. So we have something called a trophic levels. So you have down at the bottom, sorry, I used to be a middle and high school science teacher, and this is my favorite subject, so I do like to nerd out about it. But as we have trophic levels, so you have at the very bottom you have your, your phytoplankton and your your dinoflagellates that eat the phytoplankton and then slowly builds up, and at every level there's more and more microplastics. So us at the top are ingesting the higher amounts of microplastics, and with that, we're seeing those health effects.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, and that's, that's actually something that we haven't mentioned is we've, we've talked a little bit about how these plastics can affect our health, but it's also not just us. It's the health of all the other animals that we share the planet with, right?

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, I mean everybody's seen the picture of the turtle with the straw on its nose and that scare the crap out of everybody for a couple years led to a lot of straw bans, which is fantastic. It's great that we're cutting back on this product that we don't need, right? I mean, it made the argument that journeyed out of a straw can be more enjoyable for some my

Tom Raftery:

There are steel straws available that are completely reusable.

Aidan Charron:

exactly. Or you'll see the, the seahorse holding the, the Q-tip made outta plastic floating around in the ocean. But the bigger issue is there's microplastics. You have all those surface plastics that are visible to the naked eye and you hear about the Great Pacific garbage patch and you're like, oh, that sounds scary as hell. But it's not what people think it is. It's not just this floating mass. I mean, there are parts of it that you can see, and there are parts of it that you can supposedly walk on. I'm not sure how true that actually is. But the majority of plastics in our water are these microplastics and they're just coating the bottom of our oceans, and they're just interrupting everything. They're blocking out sunlight. They're en entering into the food streams of these animals, and they're clotting things up. I mean. When you have a microplastic and then a dinoflagellate, which is just a little like pincher thing, and it consumes one nurdle, it's blocked up. It's not getting any nutrients from that plastic and it's dying off, or it's just not as calorie efficient. So when it's consumed by the next thing up. If that next animal up is starving to death, so it's both choking via, you know, a plastic can holder and it's killing them due to calorie deficits, or just wiping out huge swaths of fish because they can't find proper nutrition.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So we get rid of plastic. What do we replace it with?

Aidan Charron:

That is a great question. And I, I know that's not, you know, super confident sounding, but we, we have to figure out solutions to it. Either we're, we're not gonna be able to technology our way out of this problem entirely. We did come up with new materials, but then those new materials are gonna come up with their own set of issues like we have bioplastics, but those bioplastics, are they any safer than what we consider a normal plastic, So it just has to, we need more regulation on these materials before starting and just running with them. Like if we wanna start making banana leaf plastic for everybody, we have to make sure that it's not gonna lead to some giant economic and ecological disaster 10 years down the road that we're seeing with plastic now. We also can start thinking about going back to things we did beforehand. I never had a milk truck come by and drop off a glass bottle and then be able to return instead glass bottle. But that was something that worked for years.

Tom Raftery:

It norm for me when I grew up.

Aidan Charron:

yeah, it's a norm for a lot of people and it's also. We have to start thinking about, you know, food systems are gonna be completely different and 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road due to climate change. And maybe we need to start thinking about going back to seasonal ways of eating. I can go to the grocery store now and get a papaya fruit anytime of the year. I can tell that to my grandmother and she'll be like, what the hell is a papaya fruit? Like that doesn't make any sense to me. So maybe we just need to start thinking about not transporting these foods across giant swaths of land wrapped in plastic to maybe preserve it for a little bit longer. When you start thinking about just doing seasonal, what we did for thousands upon thousands of years before it became convenient to have some tropical fruit on hand all the time. And I'm not a food scientist. My cousin's studying food science, so I come to her a lot. I'm like, Hey. What can we do? And she's like, just grow seasonally. It's what we did forever. There's like, we just need to start thinking about older ways of living. That doesn't mean we need to get rid of all luxuries. I know some plastic is gonna be around us forever. But maybe we can start investing in better technologies for plastic recycling as well. And if we start looking more into the what goes into each plastic and start kind of honing in on what chemicals are the least aggressive to our bodies or the least pervasive against our bodies, we can start transitioning that way and start making the materials up out of that. I mean, my laptop isn't single use plastic, but it is made up mostly of plastic, but that's not something that I can just, I'm gonna be tossing every single day. So also transition away from single use plastics, especially. Single use plastics, made up 50% of all plastic. And why? Like, why? Why use a fork one time and toss it out because it's convenient? You know, it's just as convenient for me to throw a fork into my book bag, rinse it off, or wrap it into a reusable rag every day. It just doesn't make sense. I understand that it's slightly more convenient, but not really. It's just the way that our brains have been forced to think for the past 40 years. I mean, my grandmother didn't have plastic all over the place all the time, and she's doing just fine. She's a little bit crankier than she used to be, but she's doing just great.

Tom Raftery:

Cool. Cool. And you mentioned the global plastics treaty and the negotiations for that. Tell me a little bit about that.

Aidan Charron:

Yeah, so the Global Plastics Treaty is a UN treaty that will hopefully lead to some restrictions around plastic and some better regulations, better understandings around plastic. Introduced in 2022 at UNEA. It's UNEA Proclamation 514. I'm not a lawyer. I attend these events to kind of make what's going on at these events more understandable. Less. Less. It can be boring for some people 'cause it's we show up at these meetings, we go in, and there's months and months of preparation between these meetings on figuring out what we wanna push for both as civil society. So there's civil society organizations like myself that are in attendance, and then there's country delegates that we're pushing for certain options on the papers. So we go in there, we sit in a room for, you know, 12 to 16 hours a day while we argue over what a word means such as the, we're like, what does the mean in this context? We have to argue about it for, you know, five hours and then we can move on to the next sentence. So my job essentially at these meetings is to take that and make it more palatable to the general public so they're aware of what's going on so they can call on their country delegates to push for what we think is gonna be the best options and what we think is gonna be most helpful to human and environmental health. And then while on the ground there we're also speaking directly to delegates after listening to both our constituents or our viewers and speaking with other organizations on what they think smarter people as well on what they think is gonna lead to the best kind of treaty. And so we go and talk to country delegates and we're like, Hey, we really would like it if you push for this option for this certain set. It would look really great. We would really appreciate it. Here's, you know, some studies backing up our findings. We're not just pulling this out of our ass. So we're looking at about, I think it's, see we're doing an INC four, so we're looking at at least five rounds of negotiations for this global plastics treaty. It was declared that they're gonna look into doing this plastics treaty March, 2022. The first set of negotiations was in late November, early December in Paraguay, Uruguay. I get 'em confused and I always feel shitty about it for INC one. It's the only one I've missed so far. But we, we did have some representation there from our South America team. So the first round of negotiations was in Paraguay, Uruguay, one of the two. I should know it. The second round was in Paris, last year in June, and then third round was in Nairobi, Kenya at the UNEP headquarters in November of 2023. And then the next set of negotiations is going to be taking place April 23rd through the 30th in Ottawa, Canada. But. There does, there is some preparation in some regional meetings that take place ahead of time. So people start arriving a few days beforehand. They start cosying up with each other, they start having some backroom meetings. But we also see some of the lobbyists show up more and more at these things each year or more and more at, at these things each round of negotiations, which shows that we're doing something right If they're sending more and more people we're, they're sending more money to it. Then following those sets of negotiations is going to be hopefully the final set of negotiations so we can get this treaty signed into place by the end of 2024. And that will be taking place in, I believe, Seoul, South Korea. That's looking like it'll be November or December, 2024. UNEA 6 is occurring this week. I think it's UNEA 6. If I'm remember correctly, is occurring and they might extend the deadline for this global plastics treaty for the signing, which could be good or bad. It leaves it up to, you know, maybe we can negotiate for a better treaty, but it also means we can negotiate for a worse treaty. And it gives industry more time, but it also gives us more time to figure out the best parts that we want.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and is the hope that you'll get something coming out of it similar to the Paris Climate Accord at 2015, but for plastic.

Aidan Charron:

So that, that is a parallel we do draw but what we're hoping for is for it to have more teeth, and by more teeth, I mean legally binding. It's not voluntary measures. I can't, my, my biggest worry with these kinds of treaties is one people like the United or countries like the United States aren't gonna sign it, which has happened. We're not signed on to a bunch of global treaties that affect the environment, including Stockholm, Basel and then a whole host of other ones that are unrelated to the environment. But what our hope is, with this signing of it we can have mandatory measures for plastic and hold the producers of the plastics more accountable. So for instance, and I don't wanna speak on the financial mechanisms too much, but it'll be, you know, banning the export of waste from a country in the global north to a country in the global south. Because why should we have to deal with it when these countries with less money will take it and we can profit off of it in the long run? And also just making sure that if there is voluntary measures, those voluntary measures are actually followed through with. They're not just thrown up there. I mean, I don't know how, I think it's like one or two countries are meeting their goals on the Paris Climate Accords. I mean, the United States just reentered into them. They pulled out for four years, and I, I'm tired of there being a switch every, every, you know, every administration on whether or not we're gonna be a part of these great environmental things. So that's, that's my feeling towards that. So we're, we're hoping for legally binding measures and we're hoping that it has teeth to it and isn't something that's just a slap on the wrist if they just disregard it on altogether.

Tom Raftery:

Sure, sure, sure. Listen, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Aidan, is there. Any question I didn't ask that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Aidan Charron:

Honestly, and I'm just doing my pitching as a representative of EarthDay.org go to EarthDay.org to look up different ways you can get involved. We have a few great campaigns including ones on fast fashion that I didn't really touch on. Fast fashion is a huge producer of plastic. A lot of people don't realize that all these materials are made up of plastic and having the same health effects as drinking out of a microwave water bottle. Then we also have the Great Global Cleanup program, so you can volunteer to do your own cleanup or you can go to our website and find a cleanup in your local area to get involved that way. We're hoping that through the Great Global Cleanup, we can also educate people on these broader issues.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. You kind of stole my last question there, Aidan, which was gonna be, if people wanna know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast, where would you have me direct them? Is there anywhere else that you haven't mentioned that people should go to either to looking to to connect with yourself or to learn more about what we talked about.

Aidan Charron:

EarthDay.org. That's where all of our information is. We can also be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube. We're doing a whole host of webinars and different things like that. We're also hoping to hope step into the podcast realm eventually, so look forward to that on all of our channels.

Tom Raftery:

Phenomenal. Great. Aidan, that's been really interesting. Thanks a million for coming in the podcast today.

Aidan Charron:

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to tomraftery at outlook. com or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.

(Cont.) Breaking Free from Plastic: A Global Mission for Change

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