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Global Plastics Treaty - the 4th round of negotiations and how we ‘Bridge to Busan’

Steve Fletcher, Director

Steve Fletcher, Director | Revolution Plastics Institute

4 min read Partner content

Professor Steve Fletcher, Director of the Revolution Plastics Institute reflects on the Plastic Treaty negotiations.

With only seven days of official negotiations remaining to develop a Global Plastics Treaty by the end of 2024, both member states and observer delegations are concerned about whether an ambitious Treaty is deliverable in that time. 

For the last two years I’ve been watching first hand the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations - sometimes with very mixed emotions. On the one hand there have been great moments of hope and high levels of commitment and hard work, but this has been tempered by lobbying, diversion tactics and distraction techniques.  There are not many negotiating days left, and the vast majority of the text is still up for debate - there is still a mountain to be climbed. 

The urgency for a comprehensive and legally binding international agreement to tackle plastic pollution is more pronounced than ever.   The mandate is clear, we must address plastic pollution across the entire plastics life cycle, from the extraction of fossil fuels to the disposal of plastic waste.  However, achieving consensus on the treaty’s objectives, structure and key measures by the end of 2024 remains a daunting task. 

Plastic pollution transcends the visible waste that litters our environment - through microplastics in the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we consume.  It encompasses a spectrum of pollutants released at every stage of the plastic life cycle – extraction, manufacture, use and disposal. 

Historically, our efforts have focused predominantly on the end of life phase, relying heavily on waste management techniques such as improved waste collection systems, recycling, incineration and expanding landfill capacity.   While these strategies are critical, they address only the symptoms rather than the root cause of plastic pollution. 

The limitations of current waste management practices are stark. End-of-life solutions do nothing to reduce the climate impacts associated with plastic production. Nor do they address or mitigate the release of toxic chemicals across the plastics life cycle.   It is clear from the amount of unmanaged plastic waste entering the environment that waste systems are unable to cope with the volumes of plastic that we are producing. If plastic production continues to surge, as predicted in a business-as-usual model, this will only get worse. Relying solely on waste management is untenable. 

To achieve a meaningful reduction in global plastic pollution, we must address the problem at its source.  We must turn off the plastic tap. Recent research indicates that reducing the production of virgin plastic is the most effective and cost-efficient strategy to tackle plastic pollution.  By curbing the creation of new plastic, we can significantly diminish the associated climate and biodiversity impacts. 

Yet the plastics economy is intricate and complex.  Policy shifts in one area ripple through others, sometimes with unintended consequences. Therefore, a reduction in virgin plastic production must be supported by a suite of complementary interventions. These could include banning non-essential plastic products, redesigning products and packaging to be reusable rather than single-use, and investment into reuse systems.

Implementing cuts in plastic production represents a monumental policy shift, one that confronts formidable opposition from much of the global plastics industry. The industry’s lobbying power is significant and countries with economies tied to fossil fuels and petrochemicals are staunchly opposed to mandatory production cuts.   Previous rounds of Treaty negotiations have witnessed these countries employing blocking and delaying tactics to stall progress. 

Despite these challenges, the time for decisive action is now. I urge negotiators at the final round of treaty talks in Busan later this year to push for reductions in virgin plastic polymer production, and transparency from industry regarding production figures and chemicals used. 

The window of opportunity is narrowing, but it is not yet closed.   With concerted effort and unwavering resolve, we can forge a legacy of a healthier planet. The next round of negotiations are pivotal – let us seize the moment and bring about lasting change.

Link to GPPC blog: https://plasticspolicy.port.ac.uk/reflecting-on-the-4th-negotiations-brackets-and-how-we-bridge-to-busan/

If you’d like to learn more about the work of the Revolution Plastics Institute click here.

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