The First Global Plastics Treaty: A Game Changer ?

WRITTEN BY Andrea Beyer Fraile

April 30, 2022

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The First Global Plastics Treaty: A Game Changer ?

Andrea Beyer Fraile

30 Apr, 2022

The United Nations Environment Assembly undertake a legally binding plastics treaty to end plastic pollution globally: what are its aims and why now? Andrea Beyer – a triple major in Bachelor of Arts in Classics, English and History at University College Dublin breaks it down.

It feels as though we have been shouting for decades, trapped inside a plastic bubble, begging world leaders to acknowledge the severity of plastic pollution and finally, the bubble has burst. At the beginning of March 2022 global leaders and representatives from 175 different countries gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5). The aim of the assembly was to discuss the implementation of an international legally binding treaty that will regulate the production and landfilling of plastic in the coming years by creating a circular economy for plastics. The treaty will be the most significant international agreement concerning the global environment since the Paris Climate Accords of 2015.

Why now? At the moment, 40% of plastics produced are virgin plastics and according to National Geographic, less than 10% of plastics get recycled. There have been almost 9 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s when the plastic era exploded worldwide. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) informed that approximately 11 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean each year and by 2040, this figure may triple. Plastic pollution has an impact on over 800 marine species due to entanglement, consumption and other hazards. UNEP has also communicated that excess exposure to plastic can be detrimental to human health, leading to infertility, chemical imbalances and interferences with metabolic and neurological activities. The statistics are alarming and with the clock ticking this global treaty against plastic waste may be one of our last resorts to tackle plastic pollution. 

Photo and artwork by Von Wong Productions #TurnOffThePlasticTap

Many of us may be wondering what exactly the treaty aims to do? The resolution from the assembly held on the 2nd of March discusses the need to encourage the development of national action plans aimed at preventing, reducing and eliminating plastic pollution worldwide and the provision is particularly aimed against single-use plastics. The treaty aims to tackle our current mass production of virgin plastics and the lack of plastic recycling across the world by managing the design processes and manufacturing of plastic products. The global treaty will encourage a circular economy and sustainable production; A circular economy is by design, restorative and regenerating, this involves retaining the worth of plastics in the economy without allowing plastic pollution into the environment. The adoption of a circular economy by everyone involved, including the private sector, would help achieve the elimination of plastic waste and save species from all ecosystems affected. Although it would be ideal to have a single approach and have all participant countries follow one scheme it is ultimately unrealistic. We can expect the final treaty to be accommodating to countries; individual states will be able to enact their own laws and regulations based on their unique situations and capacities. The treaty will encourage voluntary initiatives and binding laws in individual countries that may look like caps on plastic production and restrictions on plastic packaging. 

When will the final Plastics Treaty be ready and How? The UNEA-5 resolution established the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which will be in charge of composing the final draft of the treaty. The committee will begin its work in the second half of 2022 and aims to have the treaty finalised by 2024, ready to be signed by participating countries. Whilst the UNEA-5 assembly was only the first step in creating an ambitious treaty it is a historical stepping stone towards ending the adverse effects of plastic pollution globally. 



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