, , - Posted on December 02, 2022

First Global Plastics Treaty Intergovernmental Meeting Concludes With a Mix of High and Low Points

Break Free From Plastic members worldwide respond to the main high and low points after a week of negotiations
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Punta del Este, Uruguay – The first intergovernmental committee meeting (INC-1) for an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded today with a mix of high and low moments, setting the stage for a two-year-long process that could result in one of the most significant multilateral environmental agreements in history. 

Positive outcomes included demands calling for reductions in plastic production and use, eliminating toxic substances associated with the plastic life cycle, protecting human health, and need for a just transition, backed by many member States and even two of the worst plastic polluters, Nestle and Unilever. The participation from member States from Latin American, the Caribbean, African, and Pacific nations–especially small island developing states–was particularly notable, bringing a strong voice for urgency and high ambition in these treaty negotiations. 

Additionally, a diverse coalition of civil society members and rights-holders provided vital expertise and typically underrepresented perspectives across the full plastics lifecycle. In particular, the leadership of waste pickers resulted in the launch of the Just Transition Initiative (building upon its earlier iteration as the Group of Friends of Wastepickers), which will ensure their representation at future INCs and bring visibility to more than 20 million people who work as waste pickers worldwide.

Unfortunately, one of the most contentious topics, the adoption of the Rules of Procedure, a document that will determine how States and organizations can engage in future negotiations, has yet to be finalized and was moved to INC-2 in May, 2023. The outstanding issues include whether EU Member States will each have a vote or whether they will be treated as a single bloc during voting, and whether decisions should only be arrived at via consensus. To many observers, the latter seems to be a ploy to weaken strong measures that could be adopted to reduce plastic production. 

Additionally, precious negotiation time was spent discussing the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a roundtable discussion organized a day before the start of the negotiations to deliver a report to the INC, despite the fact that it is not included in the mandate to develop the treaty and the entire enterprise appears to be an effort to divert and prevent the voices of civil society and rightsholders from direct and more meaningful forms of participation in the treaty development process. As a result, BFFP members demanded that the INC design a negotiation process that facilitates meaningful access for rightsholders and recognizes the critical role of civil society groups such as Indigenous Peoples, scientists, workers from formal and informal sectors, trade unions, and climate-vulnerable and frontline communities in bringing valuable experiences to all aspects of the process and the future instrument. 

During the first few days of negotiation, advocates expressed concerns about the presence of leading corporate polluters  in the negotiation process and the lack of transparency from UNEP on how many of them are hiding behind NGO badges. Stakeholders who participated in the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control advocated strongly for the exclusion of the plastics industry in negotiations, building   from their success in excluding perpetrators from tobacco negotiations, which resulted in a stronger and more effective framework.

In terms of future INC venues, country delegates agreed to host the next INC-2 exclusively in-person in Paris, the week of May 22nd, 2023 as long as visas can be issued to all negotiators of  Member State delegations  at least two weeks in advance of the meetings. Otherwise, the meeting will be moved to Nairobi. 

Today after the conclusion of INC-1, the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement launched a global petition which includes essential elements for the treaty to effectively reverse the plastic pollution crisis.

Break Free From Plastic members react to the end of the Plastics Treaty INC-1:

Maddie Koena, the South African member of the delegation of International Alliance of Waste Pickers (South Africa), said: 

“It’s been good this week to see such widespread recognition of the vital role we waste pickers play. Now countries need to design the treaty with our livelihoods and human rights in mind.  Personally I’m very pleased to see my country of South Africa leading the way on this, alongside Kenya, by launching the Just Transition Initiative as a joint initiative with the International Alliance of Waste Pickers and other stakeholders.”

Alejandra Parra, Co-Founder, Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales RADA, and GAIA Advisor (Chile), said:

"As organizations working with local communities most impacted by pollution, we know the urgency of achieving a treaty to reduce the production of plastics to stop the flood of microplastics in our water, in our air, in our food, and in our bodies. We can't remove all of these microplastics from the environment but we can stop them from entering now.”

Jane Patton, Plastics and Petrochemicals Campaign Manager, Center for International Environmental Law (USA and Switzerland), said: 

“This week, an incredible coalition of over 100 civil society and rights-holder organizations came together to say "No más plasticos!" on the global stage. These dedicated advocates pushed for solutions to plastic pollution on the scale of the crisis we are facing. The planet cannot handle the plastics that have already been produced, let alone an onslaught of new production. Only through dedicated inclusion of these voices can we negotiate an effective treaty to truly end plastic pollution.”

Joan Marc, Executive Director, Zero Waste Europe (Belgium), said:

“It is encouraging to see how the majority of countries participating in the first session of the Global Plastic Treaty in Uruguay spoke in favour of ambitious goals to change the way we use plastic, from tackling production to addressing health impacts. Unfortunately, for as long as the system continues to allow a few oil and plastic producing countries to veto the decisions of the majority, the fate of this plastic treaty can only resemble that of the climate treaties and lead to the lowest ambition. The negotiations didn’t start well, let’s redouble efforts to show the impact of plastic pollution so that taking action is inexcusable!”

Ana Rocha, Executive Director, Nipe Fagio (Tanzania), said:

“Vulnerable communities have consistently played a major role in plastic waste management despite being historically neglected in waste management systems and is significantly affected by plastic production. Working with waste pickers and waste cooperatives that lead zero waste models in Tanzania, we witness the impact of plastic in our communities. Companies with revenue higher than our GDP produce plastic that we don’t have the capacity to manage, neither should it be our responsibility, and flood our markets. These products do not make goods available to people unless they can afford them, so we face the contradiction of people drinking untreated water while their environment and waterways are filled with plastic bottles.”

Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Project Lead, Greenpeace USA (USA), said: 

“We cannot let oil producing countries, at the behest of big oil and petrochemical companies, dominate and slow down the treaty discussions and weaken its ambition. If the plastics industry has its way, plastic production could double within the next 10-15 years, and triple by 2050 - with catastrophic impacts on our planet and its people. The High Ambition Coalition must show leadership by pushing the negotiations forward and calling for more ambitious measures which protect our health, our climate and our communities from the plastics crisis.” 

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic (Philippines), said:

"It was extremely gratifying to hear some of the world's worst plastic polluters like Nestle and Unilever call for a cap on virgin plastic production and the need for a global plastic treaty based on mandatory policy. Both companies also expressed the need to eliminate problematic plastics. Now they should lead by example and change their own business models to match their statements. Consumer goods companies have played a huge role in perpetuating the plastic crisis, they can also help solve it. Companies must invest in reuse systems instead of single-use, eliminate problematic packaging types like sachets, and drastically reduce their plastic use."

Additional reactions from BFFP members and allies are available here.

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Notes to the editor

  • Coalition members and country delegates photo available here (Photo Credit: John Chweya)
  • BFFP members with INC Chair, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, available here (Photo Credit: GAIA)
  • INC-1 Cartoons available here
  • Images of Fenceline Watch and Greenpeace projections in Punta del Este

About BFFP #BreakFreeFromPlastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,700 organizations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain – from extraction to disposal – focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions. www.breakfreefromplastic.org.

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