Press release

UNEA 5.2: Major Step Toward A Comprehensive Plastics Treaty

March 2, 2022

Nairobi, KEN — The conclusion of UNEA 5.2 saw the adoption of a landmark mandate calling for the development of a global treaty on plastics. “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument” is a comprehensive, ambitious mandate that lays the groundwork to negotiate a comprehensive treaty. According to the mandate, the treaty will be negotiated by 2024. The working group that sets the agenda for the negotiations is set to be established by the middle of 2022.

In response to the mandate’s passage, civil society organizations, Indigenous Peoples, workers and trade unions, and other organizations from around the world issued the following reactions:

Christina Dixon, Deputy Campaign Lead (Ocean), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA): “This will go down in history as the day when the world put aside its differences to decisively address the pollution caused by plastics throughout their life cycles. Yet far from being over, the work is just beginning. We have two years to negotiate an entirely new treaty – an ambitious timeframe – and a powerful plastics and petrochemical lobby will fight it all the way. We urge countries to stand firm in their commitments reflected in this text and ensure this new treaty is strong enough to prevent and eliminate, rather than just reduce, plastic pollution.”

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP): “This landmark decision sets the stage for an all-inclusive approach to resolve the plastic pollution crisis. Receiving the recognition that this problem needs to be addressed across the whole plastics value chain is a victory for groups and communities who have been confronting the plastic industry’s transgressions and false narratives for years. The #breakfreefromplastic movement stands ready to contribute meaningfully to this process and help ensure that the resulting treaty will really prevent and stop plastic pollution.”

Race for Water Foundation: “Race for Water Foundation, as per many other organizations worldwide, is convinced that a legally binding global instrument covering the entire life cycle of plastics and its impacts on all environments is an essential step if we want to stop the interlinked negative effects plastic has on our society, on our health and the environment in general. To win our combat for a healthy ocean we must push for a global rethink of the place we have given to plastic in our society and regulate it accordingly. UNEA 5 agreed mandate is an amazing achievement, let’s keep urging to get to a Global Treaty able to make plastic pollution history.”

Our Sea of East Asia Network (OSEAN): “This mandate has made a clarion call that craven responses to plastic pollution are no longer acceptable. While we realize that there is still so much more to be done, today we will be joining all those who helped adopt this mandate to celebrate a hopeful future that can promise a cleaner, healthier, and safer planet for all.”

Silvio Ruiz, Red Lacre: “In reference to plastic, countries, governments and communities have the opportunity to recognise the human value of the waste pickers. It will impact the future of millions of people.”

Niven Reddy, Africa Regional Coordinator, GAIA: “The strong mandate coming out of UNEA 5 is a reflection of both how quickly the plastics crisis is escalating and how powerful the citizen-powered movement to combat it has become. We now have a global commitment to end plastic pollution! While there is still a lot to be done to translate that commitment into tangible reality, and we expect fierce resistance from the petrochemical industry, this represents an enormous leap forward. It’s particularly notable that waste pickers, a population that is commonly marginalized, have made such an impact here and that nations will be looking to them as partners to solve the plastic crisis. Now we will be working hard to prevent backsliding and industry attempts to insert false solutions, such as so-called chemical “recycling” and plastic neutrality claims into the treaty process.”

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO, Plastic Pollution Coalition: This is a historic achievement. Plastic Pollution Coalition was founded more than a decade ago to dispel myths and euphemisms such as “marine debris,” “litter”, and “waste,” with a simple objective to call it what it is: plastic pollution. Now the same critical shift is happening in practice thanks to the power of millions of allies in the global Break Free From Plastic movement, as policymakers have acknowledged the need to broaden the scope of a new Global Plastics Treaty to include not just the marine impacts of plastics, but its entire life cycle—from extraction to disposal. We know there will be challenging negotiations ahead, but this is real progress. We will continue advocating for a legally binding treaty that addresses the full life cycle of plastics, covers all impacts in all environments, and upholds human rights.

Trisia Farrelly, Associate Professor & Co-Founder of New Zealand’s Political Ecology Research Centre (Massey University), Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance and the NZ Product Stewardship Council: “Pacific Islands countries and many coastal communities of Aotearoa NZ depend on a healthy and abundant ocean and soil for their livelihoods, health, and wellbeing. They do not produce plastics, and yet they are disproportionately and most profoundly impacted by the rapidly accelerating volumes of plastics produced thousands of kms away when microplastics and their associated toxins accumulate in their bodies, ocean, rivers, and soils. A mandate for the INC to address the full life cycle of plastics including the production of plastics has the potential to protect all vulnerable coastal communities and small island developing states from the multiple intergenerational harms of plastic pollution.”

Heidi Tait, CEO, Tangaroa Blue Foundation / Australian Marine Debris Initiative: “We are hopeful that the agreed mandate will provide a transparent, coordinated and holistic framework to address plastic pollution at the wide variety of sources from which it currently leaks into our environment.It is critical that a global plastics treaty is legally binding, but also that it tightly regulates greenwashing and non-compliance and scales from local community levels through to national and international levels if it is to truly have a chance to succeed at the scale at which it is desperately needed.”

Fabienne McLellan, Managing Director, OceanCare: In the last 10 days, the United Nations have shown that multilateralism works, even in the most dire of circumstances. The international community has reached an ambitious mandate upon which a legally binding plastics treaty can be crafted. During the next two years, we will see if actions follow words, especially also by the plastics industry who has been supportive of a treaty thus far. Indeed, this now provides an opportunity to look at where the plastic crisis starts: right at the beginning of extraction of oil and gas for feedstock. Thus today, we have thwarted the fossil fuels industry’s plans to use plastic production as plan B.”

Joanne Green, Senior Policy Associate, Tearfund: “The launch of negotiations for a global UN plastics treaty is a historic moment in the fight against plastic pollution. Today marks the first step towards justice for communities impacted by the burning and dumping of plastic waste. The recognition of waste pickers and the vital role they play in stopping plastic pollution is long overdue; governments must now ensure that they are given a prominent seat at the negotiating table.”

Alhassan Sesay, Founder and President of The Sierra Leone School Green Clubs (SLSGC): “We are hopeful that this will bring an end to plastic pollution in our communities especially Africa that have been dumping sites from The Global North. We would like to see action follow words and Africa should not be a dumping site for plastic industries.”

Anne Aittomaki, Strategic Director, Plastic Change: “The path towards an ambitious treaty on plastic has been paved. Today we celebrate the international community coming together and recognizing the need for a global framework to tackle the growing plastic crisis. Tomorrow we brace ourselves to continue the work on shaping a legally binding plastics treaty that will cover the full lifecycle of plastic”

Christopher Chin, Executive Director of The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE): “Our collective and individual understanding of plastic pollution and its impacts on the environment, social justice, and human health has evolved greatly over the years, and has led us to this historic event, when world leaders have finally said ‘enough with the plastic already’. This agreement and commitment to begin negotiations of a new legally binding treaty to address the full lifecycle of plastics marks a new page in the chapter of life on earth. Negotiations will certainly bear challenges, but this formidable step in the right direction inspires us, and gives us hope that meaningful change lies ahead.”

Jane Patton, Plastics & Petrochemicals Campaign Manager, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL): “Establishing this mandate for an international legally binding treaty on plastics was only possible because of the incredible civil society and stakeholders who coordinated to advocate with our governments from across the world, representing folks affected by every phase of the plastic life cycle. We have come together to advance critical information and positions to change the direction of negotiations. This work is evident in references in the negotiation mandate to human health, the relevance of climate to the plastics crisis, and for the first time, acknowledgement of traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition of the essential role that waste pickers play in solutions to the plastics crisis. Now, as we head into the hard work of negotiating the treaty itself, it will be essential to ensure that the doors to public participation remain open and that human rights and social and environmental justice remain foundational to the treaty.”

Graham Forbes, Global Plastic Project Lead, Greenpeace USA: “Today, global leaders sitting in Nairobi heard the millions of voices around the world who are demanding an end to the plastic pollution crisis. This is a clear acknowledgment that the entire lifecycle of plastic, from fossil fuel extraction to disposal, creates pollution that is harmful to people and the planet. This is a big step that will keep the pressure on big oil and big brands to reduce their plastic footprint and switch their business models to refill and reuse. Until a strong global treaty is signed, sealed, and delivered, Greenpeace and its allies will keep pushing for a world free of plastic pollution, with clean air and a stable climate.”

Pinky Chandran, Founding Member, Solid Waste Management RoundTable (SWMRT), India: “We are pleased to see the collective vision and shared responsibility of the Member States to address the problem of pollution from plastics, using a full lifecycle approach. We believe that given the transboundary nature of plastic pollution, this is a first step towards consistency and accountability across the world, without which, there cannot be systemic change in dealing with the issue. We are equally delighted that the resolution recognises the historic contribution of waste pickers and other informal waste workers, in collection, sorting and recycling plastics”.

Dune Ives, CEO, Lonely Whale: “A future free from plastic pollution is now within our reach as a result of the mandate announced today from UNEA 5.2 that paves the way for a comprehensive, legally binding global treaty on plastics. This announcement is the result of the countless country leaders and organizations that negotiated tirelessly for nature, for this generation of young environmental advocates who demand better, and for our own humanity. Today we celebrate, tomorrow we press forward to ensure the spirit of this mandate is fully realized.”

Ellen MacArthur, founder and chair of trustees, Ellen MacArthur Foundation: “This is a key moment in the effort to eliminate plastic waste and pollution on a global scale. The mandate agreed by UN member states opens the door to a legally binding treaty that deals with the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms. Critically, this includes measures considering the entire lifecycle of plastics, from its production, to product design, to waste management, enabling opportunities to design out waste before it is created as part of a thriving circular economy.”

Jo Royle, Founder and CEO, Common Seas: “This is a great day for all of us working together to tackle plastic pollution. The United Nations has agreed a strong negotiating mandate for a legally binding Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution that addresses the entire lifecycle of plastics, though there will be much more work to do over the next two years as the details of the Treaty are negotiated. We at Common Seas look forward to supporting countries to set baselines, formulate and implement action plans and ultimately achieve a cleaner and healthier world, free of plastic pollution.”

Karen Wirsig, Plastics Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada: “Environmental Defence Canada is looking forward to a plastics treaty that is legally binding and addresses the production, use and disposal of plastics around the world. There is no time to waste to stop the plastic pollution crisis and international co-operation is as important as strong national plans.”

Anna Cummins, Co-founder and Executive Director, 5 Gyres: “As an organization that has been at the forefront of plastic pollution research for over 15 years, we know that the problem can’t be solved by cleanups or recycling. It’s not just about the plastic that ends up at sea. It’s about the fossil fuels that are extracted to create virgin plastic, and the human health impacts from our daily interactions with the toxic chemicals found in plastic, and the frontline communities that are forced to bear the burden of continued pollution both upstream and downstream. It’s a multi-faceted, global issue, and we’re pleased with the result of UNEA-5.2. While the effort is far from over, this mandate lays the groundwork for a legally binding, global treaty that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics.”

Cassia Patel, Director of Programs, Oceanic Global: “Oceanic Global lifts our voice alongside coalition partners and frontline communities around the world to celebrate this meaningful, legally binding global treaty to tackle our plastic crisis at all levels and with an emphasis on both social and environmental impacts of the issue. We look forward to maintaining this vision in the negotiations to come and to seeing this drive positive change globally.”