In the lead-up to INC-3 in Nairobi, the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty has voiced its approval of the ‘Zero Draft’ for a Global Plastics Treaty, developed by the INC Chair at UNEP as potential treaty revisions, while recommending its own priority areas ahead of the upcoming negotiations.

The Coalition believes that the Zero Draft strengthens its own vision of Reduction, Circulation, and Prevention alongside Remediation, as laid out in its own Vision Statement. It comments that the document ‘forms a good basis to continue negotiations at INC-3’, yet it adds that UN Member States can still ‘further strengthen the draft legal text and create alignment on the most ambitious options’.

As it stands, the Zero Draft allows governments to harmonize regulations over the whole life cycle of plastics through the clarification and alignment of effective treaty revisions. They can also agree upon additional intersessional work regarding critical policy areas.

The Coalition adds that ‘strong and legally binding’ provisions requiring national governments to implement and enforce these regulations should be included in the final treaty.

Furthermore, discussions surrounding the addition of technical annexes to the treaty can apparently be advanced with a start-and-strengthen approach, with the Draft insisting that key provisions in the treaty become fully operational from the start and leave room for further updates and expansion in the future.

Underlining its willingness to work alongside governments and stakeholders in the next stage of treaty negotiations, the Coalition asserts that governments must unify their understanding of the legislation’s requirements and ‘strengthen binding elements’. As such, it has published its own recommendations for eleven priority areas in preparation for INC-3 – acknowledging that the Zero Draft touches upon all of them to some extent while suggesting its own additions.

Regarding chemicals and polymers of concern, the Zero Draft calls for a treaty that centres the phasing out, phasing down, or restriction of their use. This involves the development of criteria to identify harmful substances, with the Draft referencing an Annex containing a specific list of chemicals, groups of chemicals, and polymers.

A review process should also be developed to enable the treaty’s governing body to build upon the Annex in the future, the Draft says, with clear import and export provisions regarding the listed chemicals and polymers also highlighted as a priority.

On this note, the Coalition advocates for further clarifications on the criteria to expand on other relevant international policy frameworks; an initial list of chemicals and polymers that will be prohibited or restricted, alongside control measures for immediate actions; considerations for specific sectors or applications, including phase-out dates and relevant exemptions; and harmonized information disclosure and marking and labelling requirements.

Furthermore, the Draft seeks to cut down on the production, sale, distribution, imports, and exports of particular single-use and short-term plastic products. Again, it references Annexes that respectively define and identify ‘problematic and avoidable’ plastics and products, as well as provide dates for applicable control measures and registered exemptions, and a review process to enable the governing body to make future amendments.

In the Coalition’s view, harmonized criteria to identify ‘problematic’ and avoidable plastics for elimination should be added to the treaty. An initial list should be separated by sector or application and begin with priority sectors, including packaging.

Listed items should be given target dates or timelines to be phased out or phased down, the Coalition continues. Guidance on short-lived and single-use plastic applications in other sectors should be developed for future evaluation against the criteria and potentially added to the list further down the line.

Other treaty provisions addressing chemicals and polymers of concern, alongside any product design requirements to ensure the smooth roll-out of the new legislation, should also be referenced, the Coalition says.

It encourages the creation of harmonized definitions and metrics for reuse and guidance to help identify a) priority product categories and b) the necessary conditions to benefit the environment when scaling reuse models. A common framework is expected to help countries take advantage of reuse when setting targets to meet the treaty’s objectives in a realistic timeframe.

To coordinate the implementation of reuse on a global scale, standards and guidelines that factor in the hygiene, safety, and quality management of reuse systems are recommended. Additionally, the Coalition calls for incentives and measures to direct investment from the private sector into return and refill systems.

These measures would add to the Zero Draft’s calls for a minimum target provision to pursue the implementation of reuse, refill, and repair systems; another dedicated Annex; and guidance on the effective measures to promote different return and refill models.

Product design and performance should factor in sector- or product-specific requirements for minimum design and performance criteria by a specified date, it continues, while also providing generic design principles to ensure that plastics and products are safe, durable, refillable, reusable, able to be repaired and refurbished where relevant, and recyclable or safely disposable at end-of-life.

The Draft states that labelling and certification procedures and requirements for plastics and products to conform to design and performance criteria should feature in their own provision. Relevant international and sector- or product-specific standards and guidelines are also referenced.

Expanding upon this, the Coalition seeks differentiation between designing for reduction, reuse, and recycling. It calls for a means of defining and assessing recyclability – including global and regional thresholds to separate ‘technically recyclable’ from ‘recycled in practice and at scale’ or phase out plastics for which no sufficient recycling infrastructure is ever built.

Recycling requirements should be sector-specific, it explains, as this is hoped to ensure that products or packaging that contain plastics are ‘designed for recycling’ or ‘technically recyclable’. These should be accompanied by guidance on the infrastructure and systems needed to recirculate them after use, according to the Coalition.

It recommends that any information disclosure, marking and labelling requirements are harmonized; that another review process for future changes is developed; and that other treaty provisions addressing chemicals and polymers of concern, ‘problematic’ and avoidable products, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and waste management are all referenced.

Regarding the latter two, the Draft aspires to establish EPR systems that adhere to sectoral approaches and other modalities contained in an annex. These modalities are referenced in its plan to establish national EPR systems by sector, lay out their essential features, and support their harmonization; it also believes that ‘just transition’ should be considered when implementing the EPR provision.

Plastic waste should be managed safely and without causing negative environmental impacts, it adds, from its initial handling to its final disposal. This should be enforced with the waste hierarchy in mind.

Minimum requirements for collection, recycling, and disposal rates, including through a sectoral approach, are encouraged. The Draft calls for a provision on measures to invest in waste management systems and infrastructure while also disallowing certain waste management practices – putting a stop to open dumping, ocean dumping, littering, and open burning.

It also references existing international agreements and additional requirements, guidance, and guidelines that the governing body could adopt.

The Coalition calls for EPR to be more clearly defined, expecting all companies that place certain products or packaging onto a national market to be held responsible for their collection and processing at end-of-life; this includes the expectation that they provide funding for these endeavours.

It calls for key principles to be provided for the design of effective EPR systems, and for minimum requirements in sector-specific EPR regulations on a national basis, beginning with packaging. EPR guidelines, toolboxes, assessments of EPR systems, and other references to available resources and support should be made accessible.

Guidance on identifying priority product categories in the roll-out of EPR regulations should also be provided, the Coalition states, and a review process should be implemented.

Finally, it asserts that, where waste management is concerned, a common framework should be established to assist in the collection, sorting, reuse, and recycling of plastics. This should reflect the needs of infrastructure development between different plastic applications.

Waste management facilities should be subject to minimum requirements for safe and controlled operations that minimize emissions and the release of pollutants in water, land, and air. Human waste pickers, informal workers, workers in cooperative settings, and the informal recycling sector as a whole should be protected by measures that respect their livelihoods, health, labour, and human rights and facilitate a ‘just transition’.

When implementing municipal waste systems, the Coalition underlines a need for support mechanisms that acknowledge national and local conditions; this is set to facilitate high collection and mechanical and recycling rates and lower litter, landfill, and incineration. Another review process is recommended here.

The Coalition clarifies that a more detailed assessment of its policy recommendations for a Global Plastics Treaty contains additional comments regarding its stance – and that, while the document was developed in a consultation proves with Members of the Coalition and in coordination with a Policy Working Group co-chaired by businesses representatives, it ‘does not necessarily reflect in all aspects the position of every single Coalition Member’.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and WWF brought together 160+ international businesses across the plastics value chain alongside financial institutions and NGOs to form the Coalition in 2022. It looks towards a completely circular economy in which existing plastic packaging is consistently recycled and never reaches landfill or an incinerator.

After INC-2, WWF joined UNEP in expressing its excitement for a Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution, yet it was critical of ‘delaying tactics’ and the exclusion of scientist and CSO input in the negotiation process.

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Also, if you’re interested in packaging sustainability, you will want to attend our Sustainable Packaging Summit in Amsterdam on 14-15 November. The Summit brings together leaders and pioneers from across the industry to align strategically, learn, network, and create a critical mass to accelerate change. You can learn more by clicking here, and you can buy a ticket to attend here.