TOMRA has made ten recommendations for a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Plastics Treaty, including mandatory targets, closed-loop recycling, transparent reporting, and the use of deposit return systems.

An estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year, says UNEP – threatening the environment and health by destroying ecosystems and endangering wildlife, among other impacts. With INC-3, the third International Negotiation Committee Meeting taking place in Nairobi, Kenya in November, TOMRA has worked with Eunomia to pinpoint the most successful waste management solutions from around the world.

Deposit return systems are said to result in plastic collection rates of 90% and above, while the separate collection of organic, textile, e-waste, paper, and glass materials is also identified as a useful practice. Moreover, virgin-like recycled plastic is thought to stem from the sorting of mixed waste prior to disposal combined with advanced mechanical recycling.

When adapted to meet local needs, these systems are expected to provide waste pickers with meaningful work and boost the worldwide circular economy. Legislation such as extended producer responsibility policies is necessary to achieve success with such systems, TOMRA states, and it must be implemented ‘urgently and effectively’ to have a positive impact.

It is hoped that a thorough understanding of the success of such systems – as well as a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution to put the ideas into action – will help reduce litter and carbon emissions, maximise recycling rates, and bolster the circular economy in a ‘relatively short’ amount of time.

“The UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution has the potential to bring about a much-needed transformation in the way we manage and recycle plastic waste,” said Wolfgang Ringel, TOMRA’s senior vice president of Public Affairs. “TOMRA is committed to developing innovative solutions that will bring an end to plastic pollution and pave the way towards a circular economy for plastics, and we hope our 10 recommendations will serve as a valuable contribution to the UNEP’s efforts to create an effective international legally binding instrument.”

TOMRA’S other recommendations call for global access; the promotion of reuse; mandatory targets; Extended Producer Responsibility legislation and its implementation for textiles; general mixed waste sorting, especially prior to landfill; closed-loop recycling; and transparency in the reporting process.

“It is evident that voluntary and current mainstream approaches are not enough to address the issue of plastic pollution, despite increased efforts over the past decade,” added Jacob Rognhaug, vice president Systems Design at TOMRA. “Fortunately, high-performing systems have been developed, and, through these, we have identified 10 specific recommendations for the international legally binding instrument to accelerate progress around the world.”

After INC-2 in Paris, France, UNEP and WWF were optimistic about the development of a UN Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution. A global phase-out of ‘problematic’ plastics, polymers and chemicals, an encouragement of responsible waste management processes, and a reduction in the production and consumption of plastics were all discussed as potential steps towards addressing the global crisis.

However, WWF alleged that ‘delaying tactics’ were at play to stall its progress, and that scientists and CSOs were being excluded from the negotiation process.

Robert Lilienfeld, founder and executive director of sustainable packaging think tank SPRING, also spoke to Packaging Europe about his reservations surrounding the UN’s roadmap to ending plastic pollution and ushering in a circular economy. In his view, the statement lacked specificity around the singling out of plastic waste – leaving plastic pollution undefined, remaining vague about its true scale, and relying on government mandates rather than a change in human behaviour.

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