Significant tensions between countries in the plastic negotiations

Significant tensions between countries in the plastic negotiations


Negotiations continue in Ottawa on the draft text of a new legally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

Delegates discuss various provisions of the draft treaty, including reducing virgin polymer production, design criteria for plastic products, and plastic chemicals and polymers of concern.

Whether consensus can be reached on these provisions of the treaty remains an open question. The countries are quite clearly divided into two groups:

On reducing the production of virgin polymers:

 – Many countries emphasized that we need a global goal to reduce primary plastic production to effectively implement the treaty’s requirements because the problem of plastic pollution is going nowhere. Specifically, countries advocated for the following key priorities:

1) creating a system of transparency – we need to understand what we produce to make informed decisions. This information is essential for measuring progress and setting priorities.

2) Setting a global target for primary plastic production is important.

3) It is vital to ensure sustainable consumption and production of plastic, which can only be achieved by producing less.

At the same time, a growing number of countries oppose reducing primary plastic production, arguing that such a requirement is not in line with the mandate of the negotiations and does not lead to a reduction in plastic pollution. The focus should be on plastic waste management. This group of countries has repeatedly emphasized that virgin polymers are not single-use plastics but are important for many industries, noting that the treaty should not regulate production processes.

On the design of plastic products:

Many countries believe that including a provision on product design is critical to addressing plastic pollution, and it is essential to focus on product performance, minimizing negative impacts on human health, and achieving better outcomes from product use. Some delegates noted that design and performance represented a crucial element in achieving the treaty’s objective, namely to end plastic pollution by ensuring a circular economy and protecting human health and the environment.

Some countries noted the need for a strategy to develop and promote the sustainable and optimal use of plastic and plastic products, extending the life of plastic products through repair, reuse, recycling. The relevance of adopting such a strategy at the national level was emphasized, considering waste collection standards, national needs assessments and the need for technology transfer to each industry. Delegates also advocated that non-plastic substitutes should be environmentally safe and sustainable, taking into account the environmental and economic impacts on human health throughout their life cycle.

– On chemicals and polymers of concern:

Many countries believe the instrument should regulate chemicals of concern and emphasize product testing. Years of research confirm that chemicals in plastics have significant negative impacts on human health and the environment. Globally, they are transported with microplastics, waste, and plastic litter. The existing chemical conventions regulate only a tiny number of chemicals relevant to plastics.

Parties will need to be able to propose new substances for regulation and develop criteria for listing substances for subsequent banning of their use in plastics. The list of chemicals of concern will help facilitate international plastic trade, sorting, recycling, and improving health. If countries can remove the most harmful chemicals from plastic, they will remove the most harmful part of plastic pollution—chemical pollution.

At the same time, some countries noted that the list of substances of concern should be prepared considering the availability, accessibility and affordability of alternatives, as well as national circumstances and capacities.

Several countries advocated that plastic chemicals should be regulated under existing environmental agreements. However, they were silent on the fact that existing chemical conventions regulate only 4% of the toxic chemicals used in producing plastic materials and products.

There were also voices in favour of regulating chemicals in plastics only at the national level, according to countries’ domestic needs and capacities, without considering the technical and financial capacities of developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

Keep an eye on our issues. We will report on the most interesting topics discussed in the negotiations.

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Written by Olga Speranskaya