Final Text Calls for a Legally Binding Treaty Addressing the Full Life Cycle of Plastic


Nairobi, Kenya– Today, parties to the United Nations Environment Assembly agreed upon a mandate to negotiate a legally binding treaty addressing the full life cycle of plastic, from production to disposal. The mandate will guide the text of the treaty itself, which an International Negotiating Committee (INC) will be tasked with drafting and ratifying in the next two years. 

A Global Plastics Treaty adhering to the blueprint laid out in today’s mandate would join the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement as one of the most significant international environmental laws in world history. The support for a binding Global Plastics treaty is overwhelming—over 1,000 civil society groups, 450 scientists, and over one million individuals worldwide have joined the call. Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and other members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement are heralding this win as the culmination of years of tireless organizing around the world to expose the full scope of the plastic pollution crisis, and the need for urgent international action. 

The final agreement largely reflects civil society’s priorities for a treaty: 

  • The treaty should cover all plastic pollution, in any environment or ecosystem. This is an important broadening of the mandate from early concepts of “marine plastics” which would have severely limited the scope and impact of the treaty.
  • The treaty will be legally binding. Voluntary actions can complement mandatory actions, but not replace them.  
  • The treaty will consider the full lifecycle of plastic,  from the wellhead where oil and gas is extracted, through its production and consumption, to the post-consumer waste.
  • The treaty will be accompanied by financial and technical support, including a scientific body to advise it, and the possibility of a dedicated global fund – the details have been left to the treaty negotiation process. 
  • The mandate is “open,”meaning that the negotiators may add in new topics that they see relevant. This is important to bring in issues that were not debated or given short shrift in the current negotiations, like climate, toxics and health. 

According to the mandate, the treaty will tackle the whole lifecycle of plastic — not just post-consumer waste. This is a critical shift in international policymakers’ approach to the crisis, which previously focused on plastic as a “marine litter” issue. Perhaps most significantly, the mandate recommends measures to tackle plastic production, which as of now is slated to almost quadruple by 2050, and take up 10-13% of the global carbon budget, endangering our climate. In this watershed moment, governments are finally acknowledging that cleaning up plastic waste is not enough– it’s time to turn off the tap.  

“It is promising that the mandate will look at plastic across its entire life cycle, shifting us away from problematic end-of-pipe interventions like waste incineration, and instead addressing the issue further upstream, in its production phase,” states Niven Reddy, GAIA Africa Coordinator. “This milestone could not have happened without a global movement pushing decisionmakers every step of the way.” 

In a stunning turn of events, waste picker advocates successfully pushed for the formal inclusion of waste pickers in the text. This is the first time that the role of waste pickers is acknowledged in an environmental resolution, a groundbreaking advance in a just transition from plastic. The mandate acknowledges them not only as stakeholders but as important sources of knowledge and expertise whose involvement will be vital to solving the plastic crisis.

“In reference to plastic, countries, governments and communities have the opportunity to recognise the human value of the waste pickers. It will impact the future of millions of people,” says Silvio Ruiz of Red Lacre.

Dr. Neil Tangri, GAIA’s Science and Policy Director states, “The strong mandate coming out of UNEA 5 is a reflection of both how quickly the plastics crisis is escalating and how powerful the citizen-powered movement to combat it has become. We now have a global commitment to end plastic pollution! While there is still a lot to be done to translate that commitment into tangible reality, and we expect fierce resistance from the petrochemical industry, this represents an enormous leap forward. It’s particularly notable that waste pickers, a population that is commonly marginalized, have made such an impact here and that nations will be looking to them as partners to solve the plastic crisis. Now we will be working hard to prevent backsliding and industry attempts to insert false solutions, such as so-called chemical “recycling” and plastic neutrality claims into the treaty process.”

Press contacts:

Carissa Marnce, GAIA Africa Communications Officer | +27 76 934 6156

Claire Arkin, GAIA Global Communications Lead | +1 ‪(856) 895-1505

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GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.