Current trends need to be replaced by a circular economy which forms basis of solutions to global plastic pollution problem, the meet concluded
The first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1), tasked with developing an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, concluded in Uruguay’s Punta Del Este December 2, 2022. It implicitly endorsed the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s position that plastic pollution is rooted in the material’s lifecycle.
The INC-1 was convened and managed by the United Nations Environment Programme.
The UN Secretariat’s document titled Summary of plastic pollution science noted that plastic pollution was an offshoot of the linear take-make-dispose economy.
It said the current trends needed to be replaced by a circular economy which forms the basis of the solutions to the plastic pollution problem facing the world.
The document proposed four strategic goals that can guide the transition to a circular economy:
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres tweeted:
Plastics are fossil fuels in another form & pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate & biodiversity.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) December 2, 2022
As negotiations towards an agreement to #BeatPlasticPollution continue, I call on countries to look beyond waste and turn off the tap on plastic.
The first session of the INC-1 came nine months after representatives from 175 countries endorsed a landmark resolution on plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA).
The UNEA resolution 5/14 calls for the international legally binding instrument to promote a comprehensive lifecycle approach to chemicals and waste through sustainable production and consumption of plastics by adopting sound product design, and environment-friendly waste management.
The summary document identified and recognised the growing concern stemming from the links between plastic, human health, and environmental health.
Global plastic production totalled 460 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019, double of 234 Mt in 2000, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Plastic waste more than doubled during the same period to 353 Mt from 156 Mt. In 2000 alone, 22 Mt of plastic material leaked into the environment. By 2019, 109 Mt had accumulated in rivers and 30 Mt in oceans.
CSE had released a report titled The Plastic Life-cycle November 22, at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The report identified issues in the upstream, midstream, and downstream of (primarily) India’s plastic value chain, like the summary document.
The trio of petroleum, petrochemical, and plastic industries continued to manufacture plastic at an increasingly alarming rate in India, it noted.
Plastic had gradually replaced the alternate forms of packaging like metal, paper and glass, leaving consumers with the option of buying utilities packaged in plastic.
Most of the plastic used in India today was for packaging and an increasing amount of crude oil was being converted to plastic every year. Most of this was single-use plastic and might not be recyclable.
The EPR legislation, which exists in European Union, North America, Latin America, and OECD countries had been introduced in India in 2022 for plastic packaging.
However, the implementation and enforcement of the EPR policy will be a major challenge for the authorities as the policy is weak and has gaps that will need to be plugged, according to CSE.
It added that the informal sector was the workforce that made recycling possible in India. Most of the waste flowed to recovery systems through the informal workforce.
Companies had been imposing the responsibility of collection of non-recyclable waste on the waste pickers, thus affecting their income and operations.
Most of India’s plastic waste was leaked in the environment or dumped in open dumpsites (67 per cent). The country burnt (20 per cent) more plastic waste in specialised facilities than it recycled (12 per cent).
The CSE report noted that the potential of recycling was much higher in India due to an indigenous workforce and existing infrastructure.
However, production of massive amounts of non-recyclable composite plastic material and promotion of false solutions by existing policies made a perfect cocktail for plastic pollution to thrive.
It suggested short-term, mid-term and long-term measures that should be taken to tackle plastic pollution in the country.
These included strengthening India’s plastic waste production, consumption and recycling inventory; making brands disclose the amount of plastics produced, collected, recycled and burnt each year; including the informal sector in the formal plastic management value chain; designing product packaging keeping ‘end-of-life’ stage in consideration and making petrochemicals accountable.
This is the final of a seven-part series based on a CSE report released November 22, 2022 at India Habitat Centre
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