The mission of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics is to develop a binding treaty on plastic pollution. The treaty negotiations are spread across five meetings and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024. More than 145 countries and over 2000 participants have joined for the current second session.
🌱 How widespread is plastic pollution?
According to UNEP, “more than 430 million tons of plastic [are produced] annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste”. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the “[p]lastic waste produced globally is set to almost triple by 2060, with about half ending up in landfill and under a fifth recycled”. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has said that “[t]he current life cycle for plastics is far from circular, with only 33 million tonnes (Mt), or 9% of plastic waste created, going through recycling”. Notably, “[a] shocking 22 Mt of plastics leaked into the environment in 2019, 6.1 Mt of which reached rivers, lakes and the ocean”. Plastic pollution currently “accounts for 80% of marine pollution” and “plastic leakage to the ocean is set to triple by 2040”.
🌱 Why is this session critical?
The treaty negotiations are considered to be a “once in a generation opportunity” to stop plastic pollution from becoming an even bigger problem than it already is. Yet, there are considerable fears that the goals and aims of countries may lay too far apart to be able to reach a consensus by the end of the negotiations. Due to the tight timeline, experts have said that in this session it is “critical that decisions are made about the objectives and scope of the text — such as what kind of plastics it will focus on”.
🌱 What could the treaty entail?
UNEP is hosting the treaty negotiations. It “released a blueprint for reducing plastic waste by 80% by 2040”, which “outlined three key areas of action: reuse, recycling and reorientation of plastic packaging to alternative materials”. The report’s focus on waste management was criticized by several environmental groups. While a number of “countries have said a goal of the treaty should be “circularity” – or keeping already-produced plastic items in circulation as long as possible”, other countries disagree. Notably, clear differences are “emerging between countries wanting to limit the production of more plastics and the petrochemical industry favoring recycling as the solution to plastic waste”.
🌱 What is the “high ambition coalition” demanding?
The “high ambition coalition” wants the plastics treaty to “focus on human health and the environment”. The coalition consists of 55 nations, and it is led by Norway and Rwanda. The coalition is demanding “a strong treaty including restrictions on certain hazardous chemicals as well as bans on problematic plastics products that are hard to recycle and often end up in nature”. UNEP has said that “[a]t least 3,200 of the 13,000 different chemicals associated with plastics are known to be concerning”. This is particularly worrying as plastic pollution easily finds its “way into the human food chain”. In line with this, the “high ambition coalition” is “committed to an international, legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution by 2040”. They believe “this is necessary to protect human health and the environment while helping to restore biodiversity and curb climate change”.
🌱 What is the “Business for Plastic Pollution Action” alliance demanding?
The so-called “Business for Plastic Pollution Action” alliance or “global partners for plastics circularity” is focused on waste management and circularity. It wants the treaty to eliminate plastic pollution while “retaining the societal benefits of plastics”. It consists of the World Plastics Council, Plastics Europe, the International Council of Chemical Associations, the American Chemistry Council, as well as several companies making, using, and recycling plastics. The alliance argues “that modern plastic materials are used around the world to create essential and often life-saving products, many of which are critical to a lower-carbon, more sustainable future”. It is therefore opposed to widespread bans on the use of plastics.
🌱 What do other plastic-producing and oil/gas exporters want?
Some of the plastic-producing and oil/gas exporters want the treaty to “prioritize recycling” and “have a more limited scope to address plastic waste and scale up recycling”. Notably, the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, and India fall into this camp. As countries have such different views on what the treaty should entail, they have argued that “a one-size fits all approach [may not] be effective, equitable, or implementable”. As an alternative, they have suggested that “the agreement should require national action plans” to “eliminate plastic pollution [in] specific [regard] to a country’s [individual] situation”. In line with this, the U.S. has said that “national plans would allow governments to prioritize the most important sources and types of plastic pollution”.