As the detrimental environmental impact of single-use plastics becomes increasingly evident, the United Nations (UN) is deliberating the possibility of a comprehensive ban on plastic pollution. In response to a call for action from environmental groups, UN member states committed in March 2022 to deliver a treaty targeting the end of plastic pollution by 2030. The aim is to eliminate environmental pollution caused by plastic and reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions. Negotiating sessions are underway, and although the process is complex and challenging, past successes offer hope for a meaningful outcome.

The Successful Precedent

The Montreal Protocol The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer stands as a remarkable example of a UN-led effort to limit the release of harmful substances. This treaty effectively banned the production and consumption of nearly 100 chemicals responsible for ozone depletion. The ozone hole is now projected to repair itself in the next four decades, showcasing the potential impact of global cooperation.

Plastic Pollution by UN Figures

  • Estimated global plastic pollution of 400 million tons per year, projected to double by 2040.
  • Approximately 11 million tons of plastic pollution in the oceans in 2016, expected to triple by 2040.
  • The plastic production industry globally is valued at $522.6 billion.
  • Plastic production accounted for 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

Key Components of the UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution

  • The negotiating sessions aim to achieve a science-based, legally binding, measurable, and enforceable treaty.
  • Discussions include:
    • Obligations countries should commit to.
    • Voluntary approaches to further progress.
    • Financial resources to support the transition.
    • Involvement of local communities.
    • Provisions for dispute settlement.
    • A holistic view of plastic’s lifecycle, from production to consumption to waste management.
    • Consideration of marine, land, and water plastic pollution.
    • Integration with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Battle for the Circular Economy

  • Ending plastic pollution requires implementation of a circular economy, considering the entire lifecycle of products and reducing waste.
  • One of the legal briefs developed for the negotiating session discusses the circular economy in relation to the plastic lifecycle.
  • Negotiators must agree on a shared definition of the circular economy, considering nomenclature and design principles.
  • Striking a balance between an explicit definition and flexibility for future needs and progress is crucial.
  • Caution must be exercised to avoid the rebound effect, where increased efficiency leads to increased energy consumption.
  • The ultimate goal is tackling greenhouse gas emissions and preventing further global warming.

The United Nations’ consideration of an all-out ban on plastic pollution reflects the urgent need to address the environmental impact of single-use plastics. Negotiations for the UN treaty aim to establish a comprehensive and enforceable agreement, building on the success of past UN-led efforts like the Montreal Protocol. Implementing a circular economy is vital in the battle against plastic pollution. Negotiators face challenges in defining the circular economy and ensuring its integration into the treaty. By addressing these challenges and keeping the focus on greenhouse gas emissions reduction, the UN treaty on plastic pollution can pave the way for a sustainable future, safeguarding our planet from the detrimental effects of plastic pollution.