The Call for a Global Treaty to Address Plastic Waste Grows Stronger

Ocean Pollution – Floating Bags and human plastic waste in the open ocean. 3D illustration.

As nations across the world work to address the plastic pollution crisis–especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic–Canada made a big step in its effort to control needless plastic waste.
As CNN reported, “The country plans to ban single-use plastics — checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and even foodware made from hard-to-recycle plastics — nationwide by the end of 2021.
Canada’s move comes just before today’s call by major businesses for a UN treaty on plastic pollution to address the fragmented landscape of regulation and complement existing voluntary measures. 
  • The call supports a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Boston Consulting Group which found that a new international treaty on plastic pollution will benefit both the environment and businesses and would help fast-track global commitments to eradicate plastic pollution.

Why This Matters: As Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste & Business at World Wildlife Fund explained to Our Daily Planet, “As we address the plastic waste crisis, it’s important to remember that no global crisis has ever been fully addressed without a treaty in place to align us on a path toward success.” A global treaty would give the plastic waste crisis the international recognition it deserves and set forth the momentum for coordinated action.

Simon added that, “Supply chains and waste streams extend borders, this is clearly a global crisis, but it needs local solutions. Companies here in the US, and around the world need their own governments to help set consistent and effective guidelines that help them curb plastic waste and achieve their sustainability goals.  A UN Treaty will help connect bottom-up activities to top-down expectations, setting our global community on a path toward solving the plastic waste crisis.”

Canada’s Big Push: As Phys wrote, the single-use plastics ban—which also targets stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics—is part of a broader plan to eliminate plastics waste by 2030, which is at the heart of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate and environmental agenda.

This latest move would place Canada among over 35 countries around the world taking action to ban certain single-use plastics.

The Business Case: Manufacturers of plastic want regulatory consistency across the world concerning their products. It’s why 29 major global companies, including Amcor, Borealis, Danone, H&M, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Tesco, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Woolworths, have backed the call for a UN treaty. These companies are urging governments to negotiate and agree on a new global agreement on plastic pollution, saying “there is no time to waste”. This is the first collective corporate action calling on governments to adopt a treaty on plastic pollution. 

Going Forward: A resolution to start negotiations on such a treaty is expected to be tabled at the upcoming 5th Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA5).

  • This comes after the Assembly previously has recognized plastic pollution as a global problem and a 2017 UNEA mandated examination concluded that the existing international legal framework governing plastic pollution is fragmented and ineffective.

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