top of page

The Plastic Treaty: Battling A Global Crisis

Over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic are estimated to have been produced since its invention.
Image © Mohamed Abdulraheem/Shutterstock

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. Treaties in the past have dealt with the global crises of wars. Now, however, there is a larger problem than political divisions – plastic.

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

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

The resolution was based on three draft resolutions from different countries; an International Negotiating Committee (INC) has been put in place starting 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 to 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 has been a range of perspectives throughout the negotiations, and many have voiced their concerns about the treaty as well. 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? The treaty must also be a win-win approach, where no one is left behind; actions taken must have different implications for 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?

The plastic treaty is a ground-breaking model for much progress and changes to come. An important environmental agreement, it is one step forward in battling a global crisis.

Edited / Revised by Daniel Kim.

bottom of page