Can the world adopt a global plastics treaty? | Inquirer Opinion

Can the world adopt a global plastics treaty?

/ 04:25 AM November 28, 2022

PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay — The stakes are high after the United Nations approved a landmark agreement early this year to create the world’s first-ever global plastics pollution treaty. Adopted upon the conclusion of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) held in Nairobi, Kenya, the resolution mandates global leaders and other stakeholders to convene the First Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1), which is happening this week (Nov. 28 to Dec. 2) in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

The mandate, titled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument,” sets the stage for governments to negotiate a comprehensive and legally binding treaty that will cover measures along the entire life cycle of plastic. The task of the INC is huge given the steer in the development of the treaty itself and the timeline of having the treaty adopted in early 2025.


A 2017 report by the Center for International Environmental Law has stated that 99 percent of plastics come from fossil fuels. The oil and gas industry is dead set to put plastics as a hedge for the pressure to decarbonize and leave fossil fuel on the ground. Think tanks and environmental groups have already traced the financial investments on plastic production of banks, international financial institutions, investors, so-called “development” banks, and governments that have played a central role in the provision of finance, loans, tax incentives, and insurance in enabling the limitless production of plastic.

Indeed, plastics visually represent the obsession of capitalism with profits and expansion of production. In her book “Plastic Unlimited,” Alice Mah has stated that “the capitalist pursuit of unlimited growth is the key problem underlying the plastics crisis.” Further, the book says that the increasing role of state-owned integrated oil enterprises in Asia and the Middle East, accounting for 30 percent of the leading plastics producers, illustrates the entanglement of state and industry interests as plastic production tries to find new regional markets due to Green New Deal and the European Union’s ban on single-use plastics.


Asian government must carefully tread the so-called greenwashing mechanisms and market-based false solutions that are being peddled by the industry. Moreover, corporations have been embracing the circular economy agenda, although some are co-opting the vision of a circular economy through empty commitments and circularity of plastics using green techno-fixes.

The industry players have long duped the public with the narrative that the crisis is a marine litter issue or an issue of discipline among the public, especially citizens from developing countries. Thus, it has sponsored clean-ups that were seen as public stunts to deodorize their role in this burgeoning environmental crisis. For the last five years, groups under the Break Free From Plastic coalition has released its annual brand audit report, which exposes the real culprits of the plastic pollution crisis. This citizen science initiative has shifted the narrative that ordinary citizens and local government units, which lack the infrastructure for a robust Western-paradigm waste management system, are to be blamed.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme together launched the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in 2018. This initiative focused on a set of voluntary commitment to address plastic pollution issued by major fast-moving consumer goods companies, including most of the top plastic polluters identified in the brand audit report. This year, Global Commitment 2022 progress report revealed that their 2025 targets will “almost certainly” not be met.As government leaders and other stakeholders converge in Uruguay for INC-1, it is high time that a global plastics treaty will be enacted following the timeline. This treaty should provide legally binding mechanisms and enforcement policies to effectively reduce the amount of plastic, both produced and used by corporations, and makes polluters accountable. Further, corporate polluters must be compelled to invest in reuse and alternative product delivery systems that avoid the plastic scourge in the first place.

On the other hand, financial investments must flow to decentralized and grassroots-led zero waste management systems, especially local government units from developing countries. The INC-1 meeting is a step in the right direction in order for key systemic changes to happen, and for the world to avert the ramifications of climate and the plastic pollution crises.

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Jed Alegado is currently a doctoral researcher at Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He has worked with nonprofit organizations and environmental movements in the Asia Pacific region in the areas of advocacy, campaigns, and communications for more than a decade. He is also a part-time lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University.

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TAGS: Commentary, First Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, global plastics treaty, plastic pollution, United Nations Environment Assembly
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