In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) approved a broad mandate to start talks on an international treaty to address the growing threats from plastic pollution. The scope of the Plastics Treaty is intended to include all impacts from plastics throughout their lifecycle, including effects from the toxic chemicals in plastics on human health and the environment. The future treaty will be a key legally binding agreement moving the world towards a toxic free future.
In IPEN’s analysis, based on the mandate, the final agreement must address the health impacts of plastics and their chemicals in four ways:
Lifecycle approach: the use, release of and harms from toxic chemicals from plastics must be addressed at a minimum through the production, design, consumption, and waste management phases.
Design and circular economy: Chemicals in plastics make them unsustainable and unfit materials for a circular economy. As the mandate underlies the importance of promoting sustainable design, the treaty must ensure that hazardous chemicals are eliminated from plastic production and that plastics with hazardous chemicals are not recycled.
Health and Multilateral Environmental Agreements: The resolution notes the importance of preventing threats to human health and the environment from toxic plastics and calls for coordination with the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). The treaty must address the health and environmental impacts due to exposure to hazardous chemicals and toxic emissions throughout the plastics lifecycle.
Microplastics: As the resolution recognizes microplastics as included in plastic pollution, the chemical health and environmental hazards from microplastics must also be addressed, including their potential to be vectors for chemical contamination.
The fifth United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA5) decided that negotiations will be starting in 2022 for a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution. The International Negotiation Committee (INC) will have a broad mandate to address plastic pollution in all its aspects and impacting all environments. While the terms chemicals, additives, hazard, or toxic do not appear in the final text, the chemical content, and the toxic impacts of plastics on human health and on the environment are clearly included in the mandate. The future treaty will be a key instrument in advancing the world towards a toxic-free future.
For Immediate Release 2 March 2022 Attn: Environment and Global Health News Contacts: Björn Beeler, email@example.com
United Nations Environment Assembly Enters new Era to End Plastic Pollution, and approves a new international scientific panel on chemicals
Nairobi, Kenya After 10 days of intense negotiations, governments adopted three resolutions relevant to chemicals and plastics under the resumed fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2). These decisions include:
A resolution to start talks later this year to agree on a legally binding instrument to tackle plastic pollution focusing on prevention and promoting sustainable production and consumption of plastics. The resolution covers all types of potential pollution and the whole lifecycle of plastics;
A resolution agreeing to start discussions to create a scientific panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention;
A resolution that renews the Special Program that provides financial support to developing countries to develop programs contributing to the sound management of chemicals and waste. Additionally, the resolution calls for a new report on the state of the science on endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Plastics: Governments approved a broad mandate to start talks on a plastics treaty. IPEN believes that the treaty should help prevent health threats from the widely used hazardous chemicals embedded in plastics, such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals include phthalates, bisphenols, brominated flame retardants, and PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals”. All of these are chemicals known to cause severe harm to health. When recycled, these chemicals can potentially expose vulnerable populations to health threats.
IPEN says the treaty needs to have legally binding provisions to help reduce the use of plastics products. Based on current forecasts of huge growth in plastic and chemical production and use, slowing down this growth is crucial to defend the health of the planet and of people.
A draft resolution has been put forward to the Fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5), with a proposal to establish a new Science-Policy Panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution.
Plastic production, use, and end-of-life management threaten the environment and human health with toxic chemicals exposures. Protecting women, children, and communities in low- and middle-income countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of plastics is a priority. IPEN recognizes the need for a new global treaty addressing plastics and associated chemicals, which must include new and additional sustainable financial resources and complement existing international conventions and frameworks. The negotiations should recognize the importance of not diverting resources from commitments on legacy chemical pollution such as PCB stockpile management and POPs waste trade restrictions in favour of a new treaty.
A new legally binding global treaty must hold polluters legally and financially accountable, provide remedies to affected communities, and mitigate the toxic impacts plastics and their toxic additives have on the enjoyment of human rights throughout their life cycle, particularly on communities that are the least responsible for plastic production. The projected increased production of chemicals and plastics hamper the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Negotiating the treaty requires the meaningful open, transparent, and inclusive participation of civil society and the communities most affected by plastics’ harmful impacts.
Overarching goal: Eliminate the toxic impact of plastics throughout their life cycle – production, use, and disposal.