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UN summit calling to end plastic pollution coming to Ottawa this week

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Scientists and experts from around the world will descend on Ottawa in time for Earth Day as part of a global effort to end plastic pollution on Earth.

The fourth of five rounds of negotiations as part of a United Nations delegation aims to develop an international legally binding treaty on plastic pollution. The summit will be taking place at the Shaw Centre starting on April 23, the day after Earth Day, to April 29.

Approximately 4,000 delegates from 175 countries are expected to attend the week-long summit.

Experts have become increasingly concerned over the impact of plastic pollution on the environment, especially on marine ecosystems. Delegates are seeking international regulations to get rid of the most toxic kinds of plastic and to decrease the levels of plastic produced and consumed globally.

"Plastic waste is something we need to get better at," said Rick Smith, president of the Canadian Climate Institute, on CFRA Live on Newstalk 580 CFRA.

"Our recycling systems are completely broken. On average across the country, only about 10 per cent of plastic is recycled – the rest winds up in the landfill or winds up in the environment."

The Organization for Economic Co-operation says global plastic production grew from 234 million tonnes in 2000 to 460 million tonnes in 2019, while plastic waste grew from 156 million tonnes to 353 million tonnes.

Globally about half of that waste ends up in landfills, one-fifth is incinerated, sometimes to create electricity, and almost one-tenth is recycled. More than one-fifth is "mismanaged," meaning it ends up in places it is not supposed to be.

"Half of all plastic ever made has been made in the last 15 years, so were talking about an exponential increase in the production and use in plastics," Smith said.

"There's a real good shot in Ottawa with the world in town to write some new rules to solve this type of pollution. As Canadians, I'm proud that we're hosting."

A UN report prepared ahead of the second round of treaty talks in Paris last June said more than 13,000 chemicals are used to make plastics, and 10 groups of those chemicals are highly toxic and likely to leech out of their products. That includes flame retardants, ultraviolet stabilizers and additives used to make plastics harder, waterproof or stain resistant.

The session will be preceded by regional consultations taking place on Monday.

The UN says three thematic side events will also be held on Wednesday and Thursday. The themes include: plastic pollution in the marine environment, enabling a just transition and approaches to capacity building, financing and financial mechanisms.

The revised draft of the internationally binding instrument on plastic production is available in all six official UN languages.

The UN says it aims to finalize a deal by the end of the year.

Major summit bringing thousands downtown

The summit is one of the largest gatherings in Ottawa and it is perhaps a sign that the convention business is bouncing back after the pandemic.

"Parliament is not in session so typically it would be a slower week for us," said Sarah Chown, managing partner at the Metropolitan Brasserie. The restaurant is a popular spot for politicians and located steps away from the Shaw Centre. Chown says they're already seeing a steady flow of traffic.

"We've got a lot of events in the evenings and lunches expected for the rest of the week," she said.

Hotels in the downtown core are all nearly booked up which is good news for staff at the Lord Elgin Hotel.

"So we already have quite a few arrivals, as a matter of fact we are fully booked for tonight," said Lord Elgin's general manager David Smythe. "All the hotels are enjoying this business. Restaurants, retailers… Everyone is enjoying this influx of travel."

So does this latest boost to Ottawa's tourism revenue mean we've fully returned to pre-pandemic levels?

"We're not 100 percent there yet. But we're certainly going in the right direction," said Steve Ball, president of Ottawa Gatineau Hospitality Association. He added that while tourism related to conventions and meetings is on the upswing, the city still faces challenges with corporate travel.

"Corporate travel is a little lagging because of the government and how they're operating," he said. "With work from home policies the federal government has now, it does not entertain the kinds of meetings that they used to."

"I grew up here. I came in this morning I could not believe what I saw," said Michael Bociurkiw, a delegate visiting from Washington, D.C. "There's no traffic, there's no one around. The downtown core is a ghost town. Of course this has happened to a lot of other cities around the world earlier on but they've all bounced back."

As summer approaches, hopes are high for staff at the Metropolitan Brasserie.

"We are starting to see a lot of foot traffic already with the return of conferences and especially big ones like this one," said Chown. "Hopefully it's good patio season for us this year and Mother Nature will cooperate."

With files from Newstalk 580 CFRA, CTV News Ottawa's Jackie Perez, and The Canadian Press

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