Cleaning up our freshwater and oceans: we need a UN treaty on plastics, says white paper

Waste & Resources, Water Resources

A new white paper from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has called for a new UN treaty to address plastic pollution, with formulating a plastics circular economy being a 'key step' in this process.

It oulines the vision of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment – a Global Commitment is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) – and revealed the changes that still need to occur according to its 2020 progress report.

They are as follows:

1. To set virgin plastics reduction targets, underpinned by increased action on elimination of plastics that we do not need and on scaling up of reuse business models

2. To embark on a well-funded research, development, and innovation agenda, focused on solutions such as new delivery models and new materials, in particular for flexible plastic and multi-materials (which represent 80 per cent of remaining macroplastics leakage into the ocean by 2040)

3. To establish mechanisms to provide dedicated, ongoing, and sufficient funding of collection and recycling in which all industry players introducing packaging to the market provide funding, for example through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes

The report argues that a new UN treaty on plastics would help to mobilise the above and 'would allow governments to tackle plastic pollution in a way that the Paris Agreement has done for climate change and the Montreal Protocol has done for ozone depletion'.

In summary, they hope such a treaty will:

  • harmonise policy efforts
  • enhance investment planning
  • stimulate innovation
  • and coordinate infrastructure development.

According to the Foundation 104 national governments have called for a UN treaty to tackle plastic pollution, while more than 2 million people have signed a public petition.

Commenting, Ellen MacArthur Foundation CEO Andrew Morlet said: "A UN treaty on plastic pollution is crucial to the creation of a circular economy for plastic, and now financial institutions too are urging governments to establish an international agreement. Setting a coherent international policy direction will support the delivery of commitments being made by leading global companies, and level the playing field for the entire industry so that all actors can play their part.

"A legally binding, global agreement will foster investment in infrastructure and circular economy solutions and help mitigate investment and financial risks associated with plastic pollution, including its role in climate change and biodiversity loss.”

More on plastic pollution:

These 10 countries are the biggest contributors to marine plastic pollution – new analysis

Addicted to plastic: microplastic pollution and prevention

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