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‘Zero draft’ lends shape to global plastics treaty

NGOs are cautiously optimistic about the draft document for a global plastics treaty, which will be used during the third set of negotiations scheduled for mid-November.

Plastic waste

Image via Shutterstock/Roman Striga

A 31-page "zero draft" version of the text for a global plastics treaty was published last week by the chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution.

This is the document that delegates will work from during the third set of negotiations intended to create the U.N. Treaty to End Global Plastic Pollution; the talks are scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya, starting Nov. 13. The goal is to have a formal treaty in place by the end of 2024.

To be clear, nothing is remotely final about the text — it merely reflects all the provisions that could ultimately make it into the final treaty. 

One item praised by environmental groups that have commented on the draft is language calling for reductions in plastics production and for the phased-out elimination of certain polymers and chemicals of concern — the deadlines are something that would be negotiated in person. There’s also a section on extended producer responsibility, which makes corporations accountable for footing the bill for cleanup and recycling, along with ideas for financial mechanisms to get the job done. These are seen as positive steps.

"The draft demonstrates that an impactful treaty is possible," said WWF in an explainer about the draft. "It shows how global measures, such as those mentioned above, can be formulated and provides clear suggestions for how they can be structured in the treaty."

WWF takes issue, however, with the lack of specific action on issues such as abandoned fishing gear and microplastics. WWF is also concerned about the voluntary nature of some bans, "which will, if the countries opt for this approach, miss the benefits of harmonized regulations and take us no further than the status quo in addressing the most problematic plastics at a global scale."

Erin Simon, WWF’s vice president and head of plastic waste and business, said if negotiators rally around the most ambitious options, the treaty can bring real progress on the systemic issue of plastic pollution.

"Later this fall, negotiators will have a choice and they must choose ambition," she said. "By placing strong emphasis on eliminating high-risk, single use products paired with mechanisms for prevention, reduction and effective recycling and reuse throughout the entire lifecycle of plastics, only then can we have any hope of seeing a future with no plastic in nature."

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