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The Plastic Treaty: Battling A Global Crisis

Updated: Dec 26, 2022


When we look back at the history of treaties, there are a few that come to mind: The Treaty of Versailles, The Treaty of Portsmouth, The Treaty of Utrecht, and so on. All of these deal with a global crisis - war, but now there are larger problems than political divisions and great guns, there is the problem of… plastic.


In a world where 11 millon metric tons of waste are mounting up in the oceans every years, it’s only so important that we take action now; this year, on March, the UN Member States signed a mandate to “negotiate a legally binding global instrument to end plastic pollution.” On an international scale, the treaty is perceived as an influential leap in the fight to eliminate plastic waste and pollution. Hence, this framework is will be negotiated through meetings around the globe, and is expected to be established by the end of 2024.


A questions arises: why is the plastic treaty so important?

New white paper on a UN treaty to address plastic pollution (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

Due to the treaty being considered as a historic moment, many are placing their hope in this treaty as it unlocks the potential to end the existent threat from plastics towards the health of humans, animals, and the environment. The resolution addresses the repetitive cycle of plastic - production, design, and disposal. President of UNEA-5 and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, Espen Barth Eide stated that “With today’s resolution, we are officially on track for a cure.”


Presently, we have been presented a few pieces of information on the treaty: The resolution was based on three draft resolutions from different countries; an International Negotiating Committee (INC) has been put in place starting from this year and is expected to present a draft agreement by the end of 2024. This “instrument” would touch on the topics of alternatives to plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, along with the calling for improved international collaboration in order to enable access to capacity, building, technology, and technical cooperation. As Dr Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda’s Minister of Environment quoted, “The world has come together act against plastic pollution – a serious threat to our planet. International partnerships will be crucial in tackling a problem that affects all of us, and the progress made at UNEA reflects this spirit of collaboration.”


There have been many different perspectives that is worth taking account when negotiating the treaty with many concerns voiced about the treaty too. The World Economic Forum establishes a few questions that should be considered in the treaty’s negotiation: How will regulations need to differ among emerging and developed economies? How will the agreement be designed to be fair while considering the differences? How willing are countries and companies to enforce regulations on reduction, production and consumption?

Furthermore, there are several concerns: The treaty has to be a win-win approach, no one should be left behind; actions taken are going to have different implications on different parties from businesses to marginalized communities, and since waste management will be costly and challenging to fund for billions of people, how would the treaty move towards building a circular economy for plastic?


To conclude, the plastic treaty is a ground-breaking model for many progress and change to come. An important environmental agreement, it is one step forward in battling a global crisis.


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