Products of Change


Wed 06 Sep 2023 | by Rob Hutchins

UN Plastic Treaty Draft moves to "cut the head off the toxic single-use snake"

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has published the first draft of a new global treaty that intends to not only reduce the level of plastics production globally but ‘turn the tide against’ and eliminate plastic pollution through to 2040. The draft follows an agreement reached last year on the broad terms of the Treaty when the UNEP promised to deliver a ‘zero draft’ before the end of 2023. The draft – written in English with versions in five more languages due to be published before October 2 this year – states that nations should aim for the ‘prevention, progressive reduction, and elimination of plastic pollution throughout the lifecycle of plastic”. It goes on the state that approaches should be “comprehensive” and cover all parts of the lifecycle. Edie notes the idea of the Treaty is to reduce the absolute level of plastics production globally, with a focus on the materials that pose the most risk to the environment and public health. It calls for harmful chemicals and the hardest-to-recycle plastics to be phased out more rapidly, but stops short of proposing a specific timeline. It also makes mention of ‘short-lived’ plastics, meaning bans could be extended beyond ‘single-use’ plastics and onto plastics deemed to be ‘highest-risk’. Similar to how the Paris Agreement works and the European Green Deal is being implemented, the draft states that each nation should develop and implement their own plans for contribution to the Treaty. However, those national plans should include plastics phase-out plans; plans to protect human health; updated product design and performance requirements; measure to scale-up reuse and refill models, measures to scale product and packaging recycling including Extended Producer Responsibility interventions; details on the management of waste plastic fishing gear; and plans to clean up existing plastic pollution. The ‘Zero draft text of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment’ was published this week on 4 September by UNEP. It has been embraced by those in the environmental sector for being ‘a game changer’ in the turning of the tide against plastic pollution. “By embedding reuse targets, governments can give the private sector the confidence it needs to both move to existing refill and reuse systems but also invest in the research that’s needed to mainstream reuse packaging,” said City to Sea’s policy manager, Steve Hynd. “For the UK to stake a claim as a real global leader in this process they should now set an ambitious and legally binding reuse target just las other countries like France have already done.” Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet & Plastic Health Council, said: “Plastic broke our system of reuse, refill, repair, and share to use it once and bin it. This single-use culture that has been so rapidly normalised has to be stopped – reusable packaging and natural alternatives are the future. “One day, we will question why it was ever acceptable to use the material and energy to make packaging that we trash after just one use. “I am heartened to see that the UN has recognised that to embrace a new age of reuse is to cut the head off the toxic single-use snake. Governments must be the catalysts for businesses to embrace reuse at scale and innovate plastic out of our lives. The introduction of the Global Plastics Treaty would be the first step on the to change and protect both the health of humans and the planet. “In the UK, I call on Prime Minister Sunak to sit up and take note. After years of delay and inaction, it is now time for Britain to drive forward effective environment policy on the global stage and remove our heads from the sand.”