UNEA 5.2: UN assembly to come up with an agreement on plastic pollution

The agreement will seek to track the lifespan of plastic products right from the source and into the seas

By Maina Waruru
Published: Tuesday 01 March 2022

The fifth session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA 5) is expected to come up with an agreement March 2, 2022 containing measures to tame the global plastics menace.

The meeting at the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya has put plastics at the centre of negotiations between countries that have been taking place over the past seven days. It will spell measures and timelines with targets particularly meant to end single-use plastics commonly used in packaging consumer goods.

The agreement is to be endorsed by the full plenary of the assembly, and according to Inger Andersen, executive-director of UNEP, the pact is expected to be an “an ambitious and internationally binding legal instrument”.

“We have seen tremendous progress on negotiations towards a legal instrument to end plastic pollution, and I have total faith that once endorsed by the Assembly, we will have something that is truly historic,” she told a media briefing on Monday.

The agreement, she said, will seek to track the lifespan of plastic products right from the source and into the seas. It will be backed up by strong financing and monitoring mechanisms, plus incentives for innovations for the private sector to develop alternative packaging methods, the director said..

Awareness about the dangers of plastics was rising globally but the world still needed to “get serious” about the dangers posed by climate change and biodiversity loss, besides plastic pollution as agreed at the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Despite the promising signs, the director noted the hydrocarbons and transport sectors remained areas of major concern.

Economies in the developing world would need not only financial support but technology transfers as well from the international community to survive with plastics, the director noted. What the world needed, she said, was a “circular economy that did not damage lives”.

While developing countries needed support in fighting the plastics crisis, some countries had already taken bold measures to limit use of the same, especially of single-use plastics, according to Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s foreign affairs principal secretary.

Some countries in the region, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, had banned manufacture and use of single-use plastics in support of nature but at a cost to their economies, he noted. Nevertheless, he declared, the anticipated Nairobi treaty on plastics “would be a great comeback for the planet”.

The treaty would be a historic development, according to Erastus Ooko, Greenpeace Africa’s head of plastics project engagement. All African delegates should support it unreservedly to ensure a clean and healthy environment for all. It was also historic that the assembly was discussing a global treaty to tackle the plastic crisis as one of its top priorities.

“African governments must resist the corporate capture by proponents of plastic and take bold actions towards negotiating a treaty that encompasses the full life cycle of plastic from production to disposal. This will be a right step towards curbing the recent surge of illegal dumping of plastic waste in the Global South in what has come to be popularly known as waste colonialism,” he said.

Governments all over the world needed to implement national policies that push “big brands” to phase out single-use plastic and support the treaty. They should push for a legally binding global treaty, covering the entire life cycle of plastics, including extraction, production, transport, use and disposal.

In addition, they should implement bans on the manufacture and use of single-use plastic. Governments should also design policies that push big brands and corporations to phase out single-use plastics, while backing “frontline workers and communities” being impacted by plastic pollution at every stage of its lifecycle, for a just transition to a green future, he demanded.

It was a position shared by Abigael Aguilar of Greenpeace, the Philippines, who asserted that the time for single-use plastics was up, and it was upon governments to acknowledge that a future with no plastics was possible. 

One way of ending the crisis was by ensuring that companies were more innovative in designing packaging material for food and other products.

The global food giant Nestlé SA was working on a pilot project that seeks to introduce reusable food packaging in nine different countries around the world, with the aim of attaining a target of having both reusable and recyclable packaging by 2025, according to firm’s chief executive Mark Schneider.

The corporation announced it will scale up efforts on finding reusable food packaging, while working to ensure that it did not compromise on food safety, he said. As a result, it was setting reuse standards, while installing waste collection bins around the world.

A culture of “horrendous” use of plastics had left African cities choking under the grip of the bags and bottles, calling for urgent laws and regulations to enforce their reuse, according to Joshua AmponSem of Greening Africa youth organisation.

This had led plastics to become a big menace in the cities and more were unfortunately being churned out daily, calling for concerted efforts between governments, civil society and the private sector to reverse the trend. “We all need to appreciate that plastics don’t just go away, they end up somewhere,” he observed.

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