NGOs and Businesses Call for UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution

Major businesses issued a call today for a UN treaty on plastic pollution to address the fragmented landscape of regulation and complement existing voluntary measures, supporting the existing call from leading NGOs including WWF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for this important international agreement.

In a joint report, The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, WWF, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Boston Consulting Group conclude that despite a doubling of voluntary initiatives and national regulations over the last five years, plastic waste continues to leak into the environment at alarming rates – with more than 11 million tonnes of plastic flowing into our oceans each year. There is an urgent need to amplify current efforts through a more coordinated and ambitious approach.

The report sets out the opportunity for a new global UN treaty on plastic pollution to significantly accelerate progress towards a circular economy for plastics. Through the establishment of a common structure it would set a clear direction and conditions, giving governments and businesses the impetus to move forward more decisively. The report’s authors argue that a global agreement setting out global goals and binding targets, together with national action plans and consistent measurement is needed to harmonize policy efforts, enhance investment planning, stimulate innovation and coordinate infrastructure development. While voluntary initiatives can deliver change among market leaders, an international binding approach is needed to deliver the necessary industry scale change.

“As we address the plastic waste crisis, it’s important to remember that no global crisis has ever been fully addressed without a treaty in place to align us on a path toward success,” said Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste & Business at World Wildlife Fund (US). “Supply chains and waste streams extend boarders, this is clearly a global crisis, but it needs local solutions. Companies here in the US, and around the world need their own governments to help set consistent and effective guidelines that help them curb plastic waste and achieve their sustainability goals. A UN Treaty will help connect bottom up activities to top down expectations, setting our global community on path toward solving the plastic waste crisis.”

Twenty nine major global companies, including Amcor, Borealis, Danone, H&M, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Tesco, The Coca-Cola Company, Starbucks, Unilever and Woolworths, have backed the call through a business manifesto calling for a UN treaty. The manifesto urges governments to negotiate and agree on a new global agreement on plastic pollution, saying “there is no time to waste”. This is the first collective corporate action calling on governments to adopt a treaty on plastic pollution.

“Over the last few years we have seen growing public demand for action on plastic pollution, with some governments and industries starting to implement voluntary measures on this issue, but this needs better coordination, and the international impetus and recognition that a global treaty would generate. While companies have a clear responsibility to address plastic pollution within their own supply chains wider systemic change is vital. The plastic pollution crisis was created in a single lifetime and can be ended in a single decade. But only if we act now, together,” said Cristianne Close, Head of the Markets Practice of WWF International.

A resolution to start negotiations on such a treaty is expected to be tabled at the upcoming 5th Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA5). This comes after the Assembly previously has recognized plastic pollution as a global problem and a 2017 UNEA mandated examination concluded that the existing international legal framework governing plastic pollution is fragmented and ineffective. Both the report and business manifesto stress the urgent need to develop and adopt a new global treaty on plastic pollution as soon as possible.

“We have seen important steps taken by businesses and governments in addressing plastic pollution over recent years. More than 500 organizations have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, setting clear targets to achieve a circular economy for plastic in which it never becomes waste or pollution. But voluntary initiatives alone are not enough to solve plastic pollution and we believe governments and policymakers have a vital role to play. A binding global agreement that builds on the vision of a circular economy for plastic can ensure a unified international response to plastic pollution that matches the scale of the problem,” said Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder and chair of Trustees of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The business manifesto calling for a new treaty is open to new signatories at WWF, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and BCG are urging more companies to join the call.

“For businesses, a global agreement could alleviate operational complexity, simplify reporting, and critically unlock investment across the plastic value chain” said Jesper Nielsen, Leader of Social Impact & Sustainability Practice in Western Europe, Africa & South America, Boston Consulting Group.

Alongside almost 2 million people also calling for a treaty, more than two-thirds of the UN member states, from across the world, have officially declared that they are open to considering the option of a new global agreement, including African, Baltic, Caribbean, Nordic and Pacific states, as well as the European Union.

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