This Is Plastics: UN Global Plastics Treaty Must be Well Thought Out to Avoid Pitfalls


UN Global Plastics Treaty Must be Well Thought Out to Avoid Pitfalls

The United Nations Global Plastics Treaty has the opportunity to create real change, but it must be carefully constructed to avoid pitfalls.


Following the agreement of 175 nations at the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi on March 2, 2022, representatives from UN Member States endorsed a resolution to “End Plastic Pollution” and craft an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution, based on three initial drafts dating back to 2016, establishes and charges an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with  drafting this agreement as an instrument to address the full lifecycle of plastics—including production, design and disposal, and the need for enhanced international collaboration for better access to technology.

Though still in its early stages, there are some who would like to use the Treaty to decrease the production of plastic resin. The plastics industry agrees that plastic waste does not belong in the environment and is hard at work to make sure plastics remain in the economy. However, instead of focusing on limiting plastic production, the primary purpose of the treaty should be to keep plastic from getting into the environment. Any international agreement should prioritize increased investment into recycling infrastructure, new recycling technologies like advanced recycling and expand programs that will keep products from ending up as litter or marine debris. It’s through these types of solutions that we will achieve the long-term benefits we all desire.

The plastics industry is committed to working with the global community

The UN Global Plastics Treaty aims to address plastic waste in the environment and reduce emissions. However, this focus does not account for how critical plastics are to making products affordable, reducing emissions and helping governments and businesses meet climate goals. Virgin resin production is also just as important as recycled material to building a more resilient circular economy. At the same time, investments to increase plastic recycling can reduce plastic waste while still preserving plastics as a critical material. If these facts aren’t considered, the Treaty could end up being less impactful than government and industry alike, hope it to be.

In response to plastic waste challenges, the plastics industry is innovating, investing in and supporting advanced recycling technologies to further build the circular economy. Investing in these technologies not only keeps plastics out of the environment, but also reduces overall emissions—all while enabling plastics to be used responsibly. Including these vital technologies in a Global Plastics Treaty would provide a solution to not only reduce plastic waste, but also ensure this material sees a second life as a new product.

Plastics contribute to emission reductions to help meet Paris Agreement goals

As businesses and governments increasingly prioritize climate action and environmental corporate stewardship, the plastics industry will be a key part of making the emissions reduction and environmental goals outlined in the Paris Agreement achievable. A 2020 lifecycle assessment found that plastics perform better from a carbon perspective than alternatives like cotton, glass, metal or bioplastics, all of which had a significantly higher CO2 emissions or water usage. The same study also found that replacing plastic food packaging with alternatives would increase CO2 emissions by nearly 3 percent and more than double energy use.

The success of the Paris Agreement relies on effective emission reductions. When compared to common alternatives, plastic outperforms on CO2 emissions, increasing its value in the global marketplace as governments across the world work to meet ambitious climate goals.    

Consumers depend on plastics for affordability and sustainability

Consumers depend on plastics for affordability and are increasingly conscious about costs due to record-high inflation. As policymakers weigh potential restrictions and regulations on plastics, it is important to consider the financial benefits that plastics provide consumers.

Plastics deliver cost-saving reductions in a variety of ways, including reducing food waste and supporting more efficient building and construction. Plastic containers aid in proper food storage, allowing products to stay fresher for longer and reducing the amount of money spent on replacement goods. Reducing food waste also decreases emissions and resource waste associated with food production, including water and energy. Synthetic fibers in concrete reinforce critical structures and use less material, while affordable plastic water piping reduces human exposure to metal-based toxins. Plastics are also a key part of insulation that keep heating and cooling costs down. Plastic insulation can improve energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions, allowing consumers to play an integral role in global emission reductions.

Advanced recycling technologies and the circular economy provide a solution

To truly tackle plastic waste, policymakers must increase focus on consumer education and investment in recycling infrastructure.

New innovations like advanced or molecular recycling are becoming increasingly available, creating sustainable end-of-life options for hard-to-recycle items to build a more robust circular economy. Advanced recycling further reduces emissions associated with producing plastics and makes virgin-quality polymers that can be used for food-grade packaging and other high demand applications. Among many others, Honeywell and Avangard recognize the benefit of this technology and are working to address plastic waste with a new advanced recycling plant in Texas that turns end-of-life plastic waste into recycled polymer feedstock for new plastics.

To ensure that the UN Global Treaty on Plastics has the positive impacts its writers, signers and supporters, including industry, want, it must focus on increased investment into recycling, a proven solution to plastic waste and a key link to creating a truly circular economy.

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