Global Plastics Treaty: Make it Bold, Make it Binding
Thanks to the tireless work of the #breakfreefromplastic movement and GAIA members around the world, this March, the United Nations Environment Assembly decided on a mandate to create the world’s first Plastics Treaty, a legally binding international law aimed at reducing plastic pollution worldwide, covering the full life-cycle of plastic. This is a historic step forward in the fight against plastic pollution, and would not have been possible without a diverse movement of waste pickers, frontline community activists, and zero waste advocates demanding systemic change. However, there’s still a long road ahead–there will be a series of meetings through the end of 2024 during which the treaty will take shape. GAIA and our allies will be present to make sure our issues are represented, but it will take continuing pressure from people all over the world to ensure that we get a strong treaty. GAIA and our members and partners will be tracking the entirety of the negotiations to develop the treaty itself over the next two years, to ensure that it is as strong as it must be to meet the scale of the crisis.
GAIA’s recommendations for the negotiation process towards a global instrument on plastic pollution.
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Overview of the Plastics Treaty/Tratado sobre plásticos
Plastic pollution does not respect borders. It is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and even in our bodies. A new binding legal instrument, covering the entire lifecycle of plastic, is required to tackle this planetary crisis.
The Plastic Waste Trade
Top exporters such as the United States, Germany, the UK, Japan and Australia are placing a disproportionate toxic burden on the environment and communities in importing countries. A Global Plastics Treaty can enact stricter measures on the waste trade to prevent environmental injustices.
Plastic and Waste Pickers/Recicladores
Plastic takes up a large percentage of the waste handled by waste pickers. Consequently, they are one of the most vulnerable occupation groups that stand to be impacted by the global plastics treaty. The treaty must establish the legal frameworks required to improve working conditions for waste pickers.
Toxics and Health
Plastic contains toxic chemicals that leach into our food, water, and soil. Out of about 10,000 chemicals used as plastic additives, few have been widely studied, let alone regulated. A treaty must address plastic’s toxic burden.
Plastic and Climate Change/Los plásticos y el cambio climático
Plastic is a significant contributor to climate change throughout its lifecycle. By 2050, emissions from plastic alone will take up over a third of the remaining carbon budget for a 1.5 °C target. A plastics treaty must impose legally-binding plastic reduction targets.
Chemical “Recycling” and Plastic-to-Fuel
Faced with increasing pressure from lawmakers and civil society to reduce plastic production and greater awareness of the limits of mechanical recycling, the petrochemical industry has been peddling chemical “recycling” and “plastic-to-fuel” as a primary solution to plastic pollution. However, after billions of dollars and decades of development, these approaches do not work as advertised. A plastics treaty stands to be undermined if it embraces these industry-backed false solutions.
Waste Incineration and Burning Waste in Cement Kilns
Burning waste emits climate pollution and other toxic chemicals, and is the least energy efficient and most costly method of energy production. A plastics treaty must adopt a moratorium on new incinerators and encourage a roadmap to phase out all existing incinerators by 2030.
Plastic Neutrality and Credit
The global plastics treaty provides an important opportunity to officially discourage or ban the use of plastic credits before they become widespread. Doing so would avoid the incredible amount of regulatory oversight needs —both in the private and public sectors— to organize and
manage international plastic credit markets. The collective efforts could be better spent on reducing plastic production rapidly.
Zero Waste Finance
A transition from a plastic-reliant economy toward a circular zero waste economy requires effective mobilization and allocation of financial resources. Public and private finance have distinct and intersecting roles to play in supporting and scaling up innovations for waste prevention, redesign, alternative delivery and reuse systems as well as improving existing waste collection and recycling systems.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies seek to improve the environmental and social performance of products by holding producers and brand owners accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products. The global plastics treaty must embed well-designed EPR policies in it, guiding producers to prioritize upstream solutions.
The global Plastics Treaty must focus on plastic reduction and reuse, instead of substituting a plastic single-use item for a bio-based, biodegradable, or compostable one.