Life of Plastic: Talks on global treaty to end plastic pollution begin in Uruguay

Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Science and Environment had released a report November 22 in the run-up to the Uruguay meeting

By Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh, Zumbish
Published: Monday 28 November 2022
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen addresses the media at Punta del Este. Photo: @andersen_inger / Twitter
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen addresses the media at Punta del Este. Photo: @andersen_inger / Twitter UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen addresses the media at Punta del Este. Photo: @andersen_inger / Twitter

Plastic pollution is a threat to human health and the environment, with scientific reports having proved that plastic is embedded throughout the food chain. The first round of negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution started in Uruguay’s Punta Del Este November 28, 2022.

Stakeholders from civil society, workers engaged in recycling, the private sector, government and academia from across the globe have come together to participate in the five-day event which will conclude December 2.

The meeting in Uruguay comes nearly 10 months after the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) adopted resolution 5/14 titled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument (ILBI)”. 

The meeting also commissioned the creation of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), comprising the UNEA member governments to develop the agreement on plastic pollution.


The INC mandate stated that the drafted instrument should be legally binding for all countries signing and ratifying the agreement, consider the full life cycle of plastic, consider financial and technical support for countries requesting such support, and recognise the importance of waste pickers involved in collecting, sorting and recycling.

The current mandate does not clearly acknowledge and indicate the impact of plastics production and disposal on climate change. It also does not talk about the unknown chemicals that are used in the production of plastics.

Currently, more than 10,000 chemicals (additives) are used to manufacture plastics with close to one-fourth of the chemicals being proven to have adverse effects on human health. On an average, every plastic product had close to 20 additives.

The Uruguay talks are the first round of negotiations by the INC (INC-1). Here, delegates are set to consider, among others:

  • The Committee’s rules of procedure.
  • What is to be included in the ILBI.
  • How the INC process could be structured for the ILBI to be concluded by the end of 2024.
  • The broad options for the ILBI’s structure to ensure it addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including in the marine environment.
  • The scope, objectives, and options for potential elements to be included in the ILBI.
  • The ILBI’s potential final provisions.

A multi-stakeholder forum was convened just prior to INC-1 November 26 in Punta del Este, to encourage the broad exchange of information and activities related to plastic pollution.

Shocking figures

Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released a report titled The Plastic Life-cycle November 22 at India Habitat Centre in the national capital. The report was released by the Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change.


The India-specific report stated that plastic is not just a waste management problem, as is commonly believed. Instead, it is a material production problem.

Unless the entire life cycle of plastic — from source to disposal — is not together considered as the root cause of the pollution it causes, the problem is not going away.

The report also revealed some shocking statistics on the plastic situation in India:

  • Some 99 per cent of India’s plastics are derived from crude oil, 85 per cent of which is imported into the country.
  • A staggering 67 per cent of the entire production capacity of the country is utilised to manufacture polymers, commonly called plastics.
  • Approximately 40 per cent of the entire production of petrochemicals is used for plastic packaging applications, according to data analysed through National government and industry associations.
  • Some 60 per cent of the plastic consumed in India is used for packaging applications, which is essentially single use.
  • Only a third of the packaging formats are recyclable in nature, and the remaining two-thirds are flexible — a lion’s share of which are non-recyclable in nature and have to be sent to be burnt (co-incinerated) in specialised facilities.
  • A handful of businesses have revealed their plastic footprint, but there is no mechanism to validate the self-declared plastic usage by the companies. 

The report also found that most of the plastic waste entering the formal collection systems in the cities of India was sourced through the informal sector workers.

CSE researchers were informed that a lot of the plastic waste collected by the informal sector workers is not recyclable and has to be channelised for incineration, after storing for months.

This low-value plastic waste takes up the limited storage space that the informal workers rely on, thus directly affecting their income by eating up the storage capacity for recyclables that can fetch them a higher value.

Harshad Barde, Director SWaCH, Pune during the launch of the report said: “Waste pickers do not need plastics, they need livelihoods and job security, let’s not use waste pickers to demand more plastics in our waste stream and our cities.”

This is the fifth of a seven-part series based on a CSE report released November 22, 2022 at India Habitat Centre 

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