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Road to INC-5: United Nations for Plastic Pollution Action

From Uruguay to Busan: A Pathway to Mitigating Plastic Pollution

The global community is currently engaged in formal negotiations to finalize a United Nations treaty aimed at addressing plastic pollution. These negotiations, known as Intergovernmental Negotiating Committees (INC), began in Punta Del Este, Uruguay from November 28 to December 2, 2022, and have progressed through subsequent sessions in Paris, France, from May 29 to June 2, 2023, Nairobi, Kenya, from November 13 to November 19, 2023, and Ottawa, Canada, from April 23, 2024 to April 29, 2024. The final session, INC-5, is scheduled to take place in Busan, Republic of Korea, from November 25, 2024 to December 1, 2024. The primary goal of these sessions is to develop a binding or voluntary agreement that addresses the full lifecycle of plastic. 

The urgency of creating this treaty stems from the need to tackle both upstream and downstream plastic management. With plastic pollution posing a significant environmental threat, the treaty aims to regulate the production, sale, distribution, import, and export of problematic and avoidable plastic products. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also emphasized the importance of considering health products in this treaty to ensure continued affordable access to medicines and medical devices while reducing plastic use and mitigating associated risks. 

Throughout the negotiation process, various parties have contributed to shaping the treaty. The United Kingdom and Ireland, for instance, have proposed banning the production and sale of certain plastic products. Additionally, the Basel Convention’s Article 4a is invoked to ban the export of plastic waste to developing countries, aligning with recent EU actions to level the global playing field and reduce the burden of plastic pollution on these nations. 

Before INC-5 in Busan, two expert groups will analyze plastic product criteria and financing options. If resources allow, an in-person meeting will be held. A legal drafting group will commence at INC-5, working on a text based on the best available evidence. A compilation document of non-papers from INC-4 will guide these negotiations. Furthermore, 28 Member States have launched the Bridge to Busan Declaration on Primary Plastic Polymers, emphasizing the importance of transparent production and labeling of plastic products.

Economic Impacts and Opportunities

The anticipated treaty would create new jobs, markets, and business opportunities globally. Businesses can expect new regulations on the production, sale, distribution, import, and export of plastic products. Compliance with these regulations will require operational adjustments, potentially impacting supply chains and product offerings. 

It will significantly impact the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework, requiring companies to track and report their plastic products and packaging. The creation of an international, open-access database for this purpose is suggested, along with the development of international standards for packaging branding to facilitate traceability and accountability. 

The push towards reducing plastic pollution will also drive innovation in materials science, packaging design, and recycling technologies. Businesses that proactively shift away from the use of pollutants and invest early in the research and development of sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics may gain a competitive advantage and thrive long-term as sustainable practices rise in prominence across the global community. 

The Road Ahead: Finalizing the UN Treaty

The finalization of the UN treaty at INC-5 in Busan later this year represents a critical step towards mitigating plastic pollution globally. By establishing legally binding measures and promoting international cooperation, the treaty aims to create a sustainable and equitable approach to plastic management, benefiting both the environment and public health.