Global Plastic Pollution Treaty: why you can’t ignore it
16 May 2023
With 81% of the world's plastic products ending up as waste within a year and plastic production expected to double by 2050, plastic pollution is a growing global concern that requires an urgent international response.
1 tonne of waste every 3 seconds
About 400 million tonnes of plastics are produced each year. 320 million tonnes will become waste within 12 months. 32% of this waste will end up in the environment somewhere in the world, i.e. about 100 million tonnes… 15% of which will be discarded into the oceans.
This avalanche of figures can be summarised quite simply: 1 tonne of plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every 3 seconds.
We are only now beginning to understand the multiple impacts of this pollution. Awareness of its negative environmental externalities, particularly in the marine environment, has led our societies to question their ability to manage the consequences of plastic use. Like global warming, they have gradually come to see the reality: if we wait too long to react to this environmental threat, the damage will be irreversible, on biodiversity, on the climate, on our health, on our economy, on the ecosystem services that make our life on this planet possible.
The question is therefore as simple as it is pragmatic: how can we limit the damage NOW?
Horizon 2025 for a legally binding treaty
In this context, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a landmark resolution in March 2022, which paved the way for the negotiation of a legally binding Global Treaty to end plastic pollution.
This is the Global Plastic Treaty (GPT), which will occupy the minds and discussions of all international environmental organisations and Environment ministries around the world for the next 2 years.
An international treaty of this nature requires 2 to 3 years of high-level international negotiations. Broadly speaking, there are currently two opposing positions on the scope of the GPT, even before talking about the measures to be implemented: those countries that want this legal instrument to be limited to the issue of limiting marine plastic waste, and those that want the agreement to deal with the entire life cycle of plastics, from production, through use and on to disposal
The GPT schedule is as follows:
- 1st round of negotiations: December 2022 in Uruguay
- 2nd round of negotiations: 29 May to 2 June 2023 in Paris
- 3rd round of negotiations: 13-16 November 2023 (Nairobi)
- 4th round of negotiations: April 2024 (Canada)
- 5th round of negotiations: December 2024 (South Korea)
- Diplomatic Conference for the adoption of the agreement: 2025 (place to be defined).
Target: Zero direct discharge into the environment by 2040
From 29 May to 2 June, the 2nd round of negotiations of the Treaty, better known as INC-2 (Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee) will take place in Paris.
This is an opportunity for The SeaCleaners to recall that our organisation, alongside most of the actors of civil society, supports an ambitious international objective in its objectives and its numbers to eliminate plastic pollution in all natural environments by 2040.
The goal is “zero direct discharge into the environment”.
To achieve this, this treaty, without putting plastics on trial, will have to cover the entire life cycle of plastics, and not just the issue of waste.
In the words of UNEP’s Executive Director, the aim of the GPT is to position itself as “the most ambitious multilateral agreement since the Paris Agreement“. Quite simply, not to miss out on history!
Achieving this objective of eliminating all plastic discharges into the natural environment by 2040 will require a significant improvement in waste management systems throughout the world to achieve 100% collection and repurposing, given the predicted growth in the volume of plastics to be treated and the current situation of their management, particularly in Asia and Africa.
The SeaCleaners' battles
The INC-2 conference in Paris aims to move the negotiations forward on substance, beyond governance issues, and to mandate the drafting of a first blueprint of the treaty in preparation for INC-3 in Nairobi in November.
Five key principles are already beginning to gain consensus
- Developing the circular economy
- Encourage eco-design
- Generalise the 3R approach (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and prioritise waste management methods
- Adopt the “polluter pays” principle
- Establish the precautionary principle, supported by scientific evidence on the subject of health.
Among the measures envisaged, The SeaCleaners is closely monitoring the development of the following points:
- A target and/or measures to reduce the production and consumption of virgin plastic raw materials
- A list of products or substances to be banned or restricted
- A focus on reducing problematic or unnecessary plastic products
- Development and harmonisation of eco-design standards/criteria/guidelines for circularity (reuse, recyclability)
- Definition of recyclability in practice and at scale
- Provisions on information on the composition of plastic products for all actors in the value chain.
As a member of the NGO coalition on the GPT, The SeaCleaners will have a place at the negotiating table, both on its own and in transnational and cross-sectoral alliances.
Our association will defend its convictions to regulate, reduce and gradually eliminate plastic pollution, including:
- Supporting existing concrete plastic waste collection solutions as part of the mix of solutions being promoted to reduce the impacts of marine plastic pollution. This is not only a hope to deal with the legacy of plastic waste, which is already in the water and will take hundreds of years to decompose, but also to give society a positive outlook for improving the situation in the short and medium term;
- Include extended producer responsibility, especially in developing countries, where the “polluters pay” principle will have to finance initiatives in the most vulnerable territories;
- Allocate part of the governments’ development aid to the fight against plastic pollution in the mots vulnerable countries: these are the countries that suffer the most from pollution, and those that were the driving force behind the most ambitious coalition of States in the GPT;
- Put scientific research at the heart of the governance of the Treaty to base decisions on objective, harmonised and shared data and encourage data-driven policy-making. The role of the future IPCC on chemicals, wastes and pollution, which is being created, should be enhanced in the future Treaty. Don’t let “plastico-sceptics” slow down the debate as climate sceptics have done on climate;
- Defend the role of innovation and solution technologies in the GPT and accelerate systems change across the entire life cycle of plastic pollution, from source to sea;
- Promote environmental justice: prioritise sustainable economic and employment opportunities, particularly in vulnerable communities, engage with waste worker communities and promote the value of local knowledge to accelerate the implementation of innovative solutions along the source-to-sea plastics value chain;
- Improve access to fast and flexible finance for innovators along the value chain, in a time-sensitive plastic waste context;
- Recognise, safeguard and promote the inclusion of existing innovations in national and global regulatory frameworks.
“Until the possible is done, the duty is not fulfilled“: this sentence by French writer Victor Hugo sums up our philosophy towards the ocean. We have no right to resign ourselves and remain immobile until all solutions have been taken and explored. This is the line of conduct that will animate us throughout the GPT negotiations.