No Plastic Waste24 Feb 2022

Minderoo Foundation calls for an ambitious and legally binding global plastic treaty

A treaty is critical for the elimination of plastic pollution and to mitigate the risk of irreversible harm to people and the planet.

VonWong
Giant Plastic Tap by Von Wong greets delegates as they arrive at UNEA 5.2. Photo Credit: Von Wong.

Update 2 March 2022

Negotiations will now begin on a legally binding plastics treaty. The agreement End Pollution Now: Toward an international legally binding agreement was adopted at the UN Environment Assembly on 2 March 2022, setting in motion the establishment of an international negotiating committee (INC).

The agreement includes the ambitious scope and mandate that Minderoo Foundation called for. It asks the INC to pursue a legally binding treaty which addresses the full lifespan of plastics, with the treaty to be ready for ratification by 2024.

From the 28 February to 2 March 2022, international delegates will meet at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi (UNEA 5.2). At this conference, countries will vote on the establishment of an international negotiation committee (INC) for a global treaty addressing plastic pollution.

While there is general recognition that we need a global framework, there is not consensus on what it should include and whether it should be legally binding or not.

Governments, businesses and communities around the world have sounded the alarm as the problem of global plastic pollution rapidly accelerates and sustainability efforts are not keeping pace.

An international team of researchers has found that we are already operating outside of the planetary boundary for ‘novel entities’, which includes plastic and chemical additives1. Crossing this boundary means we cannot keep pace with safety assessment and monitoring and increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental harm, with consequent effects on human health. The need to address this problem is now urgent.

This is why we urge countries to start the negotiations for a legally binding instrument with the highest level of urgency.

Three draft resolutions are up for a vote at UNEA 5.2, and countries are aiming to reach a compromise on the text:

  • A draft resolution sponsored by Rwanda and Peru calls for a legally binding agreement which addresses the full life cycle of plastics (from feedstock to post use). To date, more than 60 countries have backed the Rwanda-Peru resolution, according to the WWF Global Plastic Navigator.
  • A draft resolution sponsored by Japan calls for a treaty that sets a “common objective” to reduce “marine plastic pollution”, with countries developing and reporting against national action plans to contribute to this objective.
  • A draft resolution submitted by India calls for the establishment of a voluntary collaboration framework to combat plastic product pollution, focusing specifically on single-use plastics.

The scope and level of ambition of the INC negotiation mandate will be absolutely critical for the efficacy of a future treaty to eliminate plastic pollution.

A “marine litter” or “single-use plastic”-only focus would significantly reduce its potential impact. This approach fails to recognise that the problem is rooted in unsustainable levels of consumption.

Minderoo Foundation research2 has shown that plastic supply chains are highly globalised, enabled by global financial institutions and characterised by a high degree of state ownership. This requires an approach that addresses the upstream sources of production as well as downstream waste management, as proposed by the Rwanda-Peru draft.

A treaty must be legally binding and set targets which are concrete, measurable and time bound. A key target must be to phase down the production of fossil-fuel (“virgin”) plastics.

It must contain measures ensuring that the plastics we already have are reused or recycled into new products (for example, by setting re-use or recycled content targets).

Finally, it must set guidelines for plastics to be redesigned to be safe, eliminating chemicals posing a significant human health risk and preventing fragmentation into micro- and nano- plastics which also present diverse toxicity and environmental effects.3

More than 70 global industry leaders4 have publicly supported the adoption of a robust, legally binding treaty which includes both upstream measures to reduce fossil-fuel plastic production and downstream measures to improve waste management and recycling, preventing plastic leakage to nature. This call strongly aligns with the draft Rwanda-Peru resolution.

As we have already crossed the planetary boundary for plastics contributing to potentially irreversible environmental change and human harm, we call on UN member states to negotiate an ambitious, legally binding treaty. The treaty text should be finalised by UNEA 6 to mitigate any further risk of irreversible environmental and human harm.

Notes:

1 L. Persson et Al, Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities, Environmental Science and Technology (January 2022).

2 Minderoo Productions Limited, Plastic Waste Makers Index (May 2021).

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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