UN plastic treaty talks grapple with re-use, recycle, reduce debate
NAIROBI — A third round of United Nations (UN) negotiations to try to deliver the world’s first treaty to control plastic pollution has drawn more than 500 proposals from governments, participants said Sunday.
Negotiators, who spent a week meeting in the Kenyan capital at talks known as INC3, have until the end of next year to strike a deal for the control of plastics, which produce an estimated 400 million tonnes of waste every year.
The plastics industry, and oil and petrochemical exporters, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, have said a global deal should promote recycling and re-use of plastic. But environmental campaigners and some governments said much less needs to be produced in the first place.
Environmental group Greenpeace said a successful deal would require the United States and the European Union to show greater leadership than they have so far.
“The hard truth is that INC3 has failed to deliver on its core objective: delivering a mandate to prepare a first draft of a treaty text,” Graham Forbes, head of delegation for Greenpeace, said.
“This is not progress. This is chaos,” he also said, referring to the number of submissions.
Two more rounds of talks will take place next year to try to finalize the deal. A proposal to hold an extra session before the next round in Canada, known as intercessional talks, failed to advance in the final plenary meeting, participants said.
Bethanie Carney Almroth, an eco-toxicologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who was involved in the talks, said the world was confronting a huge challenge.
“Plastics are connected to climate change, to biodiversity loss and other major threats and crises that we as the human population are facing on the planet,” she said.
There was no immediate comment from the United Nations.
Less than 10% of plastic waste recycled
Stewart Harris, a spokesman for the International Council of Chemicals Association, an industry body that favors measures like re-using plastic containers as opposed to production curbs, said the Nairobi talks had delivered good ideas.
A proposal by Switzerland and Uruguay to hold more discussions on curbing harmful polymers and chemicals of concern garnered support from more than 100 members states.
But some participants were disappointed by what they called the lack of a clear path towards an effective deal.
“Major fossil fuel producers and exporters stalled efforts to move forward in an efficient manner,” said Tadesse Amera, co-chair of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a global network of non-governmental organisations.
Less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled, the United Nations Environment Programme said, while at least 14 million tonnes (around 15.4 million metric tons) end up in oceans every year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said.
Canada, Kenya, and the European Union were among those who said plastic production needed to be limited, while a coalition of Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others has sought to emphasize recycling.
Members of the Saudi delegation at the talks declined to talk to Reuters, while Russian delegates could not immediately be reached for comment.