Plastics treaty talks in Canada end with some progress but many challenges ahead 

Posted on May 3, 2024 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations

The latest round of the plastics treaty talks ended in Canada early on April 30 with compromises to keep the negotiations moving but with no one seeming entirely happy.

Source: Plastics treaty talks in Canada end with some progress but many challenges ahead | Plastics News

Progress, but far to go

World Plastics Council leader Benny Mermans said it will not be easy to complete an agreement by the end of the year.

“Progress has been made during INC-4 to streamline the text and establish a much-needed process of intersessional negotiations to maintain momentum before INC-5 [in Busan],” said Mermans, who is also an executive at Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. “However, to finalize an agreement to end plastic pollution much more pragmatism and compromise regarding the scope, focus and process of these negotiations is needed.”

One of the two intersessional groups of experts will look broadly at financing and how to pay for waste management infrastructure and other measures seen as vital to be in the treaty, particularly by developing nations.

A second expert panel will look at design, including criteria for evaluating problematic plastic applications and chemicals of concern in plastic products, as well as design to enhance recyclability and reusability of plastic products.

“I think the most important thing is that early this morning governments agreed to additional work on finance and design,” said Stewart Harris, a treaty negotiator for the American Chemistry Council.

“Product design is key for our members. … We’re really pleased to see governments starting to move toward convergence and hopefully consensus on some provisions around product design in the agreement,” Harris said.

Some plastics industry priorities for the treaty, like extended producer responsibility programs that have companies pay into recycling programs and mandates for recycled content use, are still in the mix, even if they’re not explicitly on the intersessional agenda, Harris said.

He said it’s possible the intersessional work could “branch off” into discussions around EPR, as well as into an area industry is skeptical of, putting fees on virgin plastics to help pay for better recycling and other provisions in the treaty.

Virginia Janssens, the head of the Plastics Europe trade group, said that while some progress was made in the talks in Ottawa, “the reality is that the clock is now ticking loudly.”

She said she saw a growing recognition from countries that EPR schemes are needed to finance managing end-of-life plastics, and she said her group was encouraged by proposals during the negotiations on how to define problematic or high-leakage plastics applications.

But she also called for more work on measures to encourage regulatory policies like recycled content mandates, saying her group was concerned about a lack of progress there.

“The focus must now shift to policy measures that will increase the value of plastic waste as a circular feedstock by increasing demand for circular plastic raw materials, including the introduction of mandatory recycled content targets for sectors that use plastics at the national level,” Janssens said.

‘Sacrifice ambition for compromise’

For environmental groups and some countries, however, there was disappointment that limiting plastic production will not be directly on the agenda of the intersessional work.

The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, for example, said there’s growing consensus for the treaty to include plastic production reduction targets, noting that more than 50 countries now back such measures.

They and other groups hailed a proposal from Rwanda and Peru to include a 40 percent reduction in plastic production by 2040.

“We saw some progress, aided by the continued efforts of states such as Rwanda, Peru, and the signatories of the Bridge to Busan declaration in pushing to reduce plastic production,” said Graham Forbes, head of Greenpeace’s delegation to the talks. “However, compromises were made on the outcome which disregarded plastic production cuts, further distancing us from reaching a treaty that science requires and justice demands.”

The Bridge to Busan nations, which include Australia, France, Nigeria and the Philippines, say that left unaddressed, plastic production will skyrocket by 2050. That will overwhelm national waste management and recycling programs and make it harder to limit global warming to a 1.5° Celsius temperature increase in the Paris climate agreement, they said.

Controlling unsustainable levels of plastic production “represents one of the most efficient and cost-effective approaches to managing the plastic pollution problem,” the declaration said.

In public comments at the April 29 session, Canada, Switzerland, Norway and some other countries expressed disappointment that the intersessionals won’t debate “sustainable” levels of production but said compromises were needed to move the treaty forward.

“We understand at this stage the need to compromise,” a Canadian diplomat told the plenary. “Like others we would have liked intersessional work on sustainable levels of production and consumption. But we are confident that through informal work, we will be able to deliver to advance these issues, amongst others.”

The Center for International Environmental Law said the Ottawa talks “sacrifice ambition for compromise,” and Julie Teel Simmonds, a treaty delegate from the Center for Biological Diversity, said frontline and public health groups who came to the talks pushed for cuts in production to better protect people.

She criticized Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and other “fossil fuel-aligned” countries for seeking to limit the treaty to waste management concerns.

“Despite hearing people from polluted communities around the world give sensible proposals to curb the lifecycle harms of plastics, fossil fuel and petrochemical interests are still shamelessly blocking progress and focusing on utterly inadequate plastic waste management,” she said

Reads as little progress made.