The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-3) took place from 13 to 19 November 2023 at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. At the outset of INC-3, the Zero Draft was a balanced document, reflecting different points of view and providing a basis for negotiations for Member States. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC), led by Rwanda and Norway (which Armenia also joined) hoped to tackle plastic pollution by 2040 with a treaty guaranteeing action across the entire life cycle of plastics, including cutting production and limiting toxic chemicals used in the plastic industry. However, as a result of negotiations at INC-3, the Zero Draft Treaty text more than tripled in size and included a significant number of provisions on “national priorities”, “national conditions”, which could lead to the predominance of voluntary measures over legally binding ones. Moreover, the bottom-up approach promoted by a number of countries also does not contribute to the preparation of a strong, ambitious document, but leads to a change in the original INC mandate, established under Resolution 14, adopted at the Fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in February 2021. According to this mandate, a future treaty should cover “the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.” However, the so-called bottom-up approach requires a focus solely on waste management, arguing that the problem of plastic pollution lies not in the extraction of raw materials and the production of virgin polymers and the plastic itself, but in its disposal. Proponents of this approach demanded that the issue of extraction of raw materials for plastic production be excluded from the concept of the life cycle of plastics and focus on different approaches to solving the problems of plastic waste. AWHHE representative participated at the INC-3 with a team of international NGOs including International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), and worked closely with the Armenia delegation.
The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5) of the Minamata Convention on Mercury held in Geneva, Switzerland from October 30 to November 3, 2023. While commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Convention, the parties also considered decisions that will define success in its second decade. Parties agreed to update Annexes A and B of the Convention to list phaseout dates for certain types of batteries, switches and relays, fluorescent lamps, and cosmetics, and mandate the phaseout of mercury as a catalyst in polyurethane production by 2025. They also agreed on language declaring mercury-free processes for production of sodium or potassium methylate or ethylate to be technically and economically feasible. However, efforts by the African Group and other parties to agree on a phaseout of dental amalgam, which is still widely used for dental fillings, did not achieve consensus. The final decision only requires parties that have not yet phased out dental amalgam to report on how they plan to do so. A decision on mercury waste thresholds means that countries have a fixed standard now for measuring whether imports and exports contaminated with mercury contain more than the allowed total concentration value of 15 mg/kg. This is important for countries who fear becoming global dumping grounds for mercury-contaminated wastes, as it gives an international standard for deciding whether a shipment should be blocked. It also means that producer It also means that prod ucer nations now have a benchmark for blocking exports of mercury-contaminated waste. Parties also agreed on the composition of the Open-Ended Scientific Group for the first effectiveness evaluation of the Convention. AWHHE representative participated at the COP-5 with a team of international NGOs including International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) and World Alliance for Mercury-free Dentistry. She delivered a statement on gender mainstreaming on behalf of the Zero Mercury Working Group.
The 5th session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), organized by UNEP and hosted by the government of Germany who hold the presidency of this fifth session of the Conference, took place from 25 to 29 September 2023 at the World Conference Center Bonn (WCCB) with a High-level Segment (HLS) on 28 and 29 September 2023. The Session finished with a historic and successful outcome, adopting the following documents: the Global Framework on Chemicals – For a Planet Free of Harm from Chemicals and Waste; the Bonn Declaration – for a Planet Free of Harm from Chemicals and Waste; the Global Framework on Chemicals Fund; and a set of other Conference resolutions focused on the implementation of the framework. AWHHE representative was there as part of the participating organizations of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).
Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment (AWHHE) proudly supports the opening statement presented by a coalition of NGOs at the International Negotiating Committee (INC 3). The statement emphasizes the need for a future plastic treaty with binding transparency and traceability requirements for chemicals in plastic materials.
AWHHE recognizes the importance of a globally harmonized chemical transparency mechanism for a toxics-free circular plastics economy. For more details, refer to the complete opening statement [here].
Join AWHHE in endorsing this crucial initiative for a sustainable and transparent future in plastic production and consumption.
At 10:20 am on Saturday morning, 30 September 2023, the remaining exhausted delegates who had worked through the night and into the morning cheered as they formally adopted the new global framework for the integrated management of chemicals and waste, the Global Framework on Chemicals – For a planet free of harm from chemicals and waste. The fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5) finally came to a successful conclusion over 16 hours after its scheduled end. A visibly moved ICCM5 President Anita Breyer, who had overseen a fraught final plenary session where the final text was cleaned up and agreed upon, repeatedly thanked delegates for keeping the faith.
A high-level Friends of the President group steered a similarly difficult process during the week to finalize the Bonn Declaration, a political statement that was drafted over months of informal consultations and finally agreed in the final hours. Consequently, the High-level Segment was unable to formally adopt the declaration before ministers and other high-level international representatives concluded their talks. As with the Framework, much of the delay was caused by entrenched positions that led to repeated appeals for delegates to exhibit the Bonn Spirit of “live and let live.” In particular, text referencing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), technology transfer “on mutually agreed terms,” and the polluter pays principle remained bracketed until the very last moment in both negotiations.
Notwithstanding, the determination of many to achieve a positive outcome yielded agreement on an instrument that many stakeholders believe meets the aspiration for a post-2020 framework on chemicals and waste. Throughout the week, many spoke of the heavy toll—especially on the most vulnerable populations—from the unsustainable use of chemicals and waste. With the new instrument, there is hope that the stage has been set for renewed multi-stakeholder collaboration at all levels to address these challenges.
The 12-part “Global Framework on Chemicals,” its three annexes, and the accompanying 12 resolutions provide a rationale, targets, and actions to ensure that a broad cross-section of stakeholders from governments, international technical agencies, civil society, and the private sector can collaborate on such issues as phasing out the most harmful chemicals, strengthening capacity building, particularly for countries with weak enforcement regimes, and creating better linkages across diverse sectors, including health and occupational safety, trade, agriculture, energy, and transport.
With important targets on export prohibition and guidelines adopted as part of the Framework, there is much to celebrate for many delegations who toughed it out in plenary to the very end.
Multi-stakeholder alliances established or reaffirmed at the Conference include the work of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) in offering technical guidance and coordinating joint initiatives, and the launch of a Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). In addition, ICCM5 launched a process for creating implementation programmes for the new Framework that should result in new sector-focused initiatives involving key heavy users of chemicals, such as the textile and construction sectors.
As noted by German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, stakeholders now have a concrete tool with which to raise the profile of chemicals and waste issues at the UN General Assembly and other global fora. Demonstrating the continued commitment of the host country, the German government pledged EUR 20 million to the newly birthed Framework.
ICCM5 convened in Bonn, Germany, from 25-30 September 2023. It was preceded by the second resumed session of the Fourth Meeting of the Intersessional Process (IP4) on 23-24 September, which continued its negotiations on the new Global Framework.
23 May 2023
WASHINGTON (May 24, 2023)—A new report from Greenpeace USA provides a catalog of peer-reviewed research and international studies concluding that recycling actually increases the toxicity of plastics. It highlights the threat that recycled plastics pose to the health of consumers, frontline communities, and workers in the recycling sector. Along with previous research showing that very little plastic reaches recycling facilities in the first place—less than 9% globally, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)—the report concludes that the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Paris (May 29 to June 2) must focus on capping and then phasing down plastic production.
The report, “Forever Toxic: The science of health threats from plastic recycling,” notes that, according to UNEP, plastics contain more than 13,000 chemicals, with more than 3,200 of them known to be hazardous to human health. Moreover, many of the other chemicals in plastics have never been assessed and may also be toxic. Recycled plastics often contain higher levels of chemicals that can poison people and contaminate communities, including toxic flame retardants, benzene and other carcinogens, environmental pollutants like brominated and chlorinated dioxins, and numerous endocrine disruptors that can cause changes to the body’s natural hormone levels.
Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Campaign Lead at Greenpeace USA, said: “The plastics industry—including fossil fuel, petrochemical, and consumer goods companies—continues to put forward plastic recycling as the solution to the plastic pollution crisis. But this report shows that the toxicity of plastic actually increases with recycling. Plastics have no place in a circular economy and it’s clear that the only real solution to ending plastic pollution is to massively reduce plastic production.”
At the Paris meetings, formally known as the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) meeting for the Global Plastics Treaty, the Greenpeace global network is advocating for an ambitious, legally binding agreement that accelerates a just transition away from a dependence on plastic materials and establishes global controls to regulate toxic chemicals in plastic.
In the lead up to the negotiations, over 100 scientists and civil society groups issued a letter urging the United Nations to prevent the fossil fuel industry from undermining the negotiations. Celebrities like Jane Fonda called on the Biden Administration to support a legally binding treaty that caps plastic production.
Plastic production, disposal, and incineration facilities are most often located in low-income, marginalized communities across the world, which suffer from higher rates of cancer, lung disease and adverse birth outcomes associated with their exposure to the toxic chemicals. The Treaty should generate opportunities for workers to leave polluting and toxic industries for healthier jobs in a reuse-based economy.
Jo Banner of The Descendants Project, based in the Mississippi River region of Louisiana, said: “Plastics production is inconsistent with healthy, thriving communities, and this report shows that plastics recycling only perpetuates those harms. My region is now known as “Cancer Alley” for the extreme risks of cancer and death due to pollution from plastic producing industries. We are calling on world leaders to negotiate a global plastics treaty that ends plastic production, protects communities like ours and supports a just transition for workers across the plastics supply chain.”
The report highlights three “poisonous pathways” for recycled plastic material to accumulate toxic chemicals:
- Direct contamination from toxic chemicals in virgin plastic: When plastics are made with toxic chemicals and then recycled, the toxic chemicals can transfer into the recycled plastics.
- Leaching of toxic substances into plastic waste: Numerous studies show that plastics can absorb contaminants through direct contact and through the absorption of volatile compounds. When plastics are tainted by toxins in the waste stream and the environment and are then recycled, they produce recycled plastics that contain a stew of toxic chemicals. For example, plastic containers for pesticides, cleaning solvents, and other toxic chemicals that enter the recycling chain can result in contamination of recycled plastic.
- New toxic chemicals created by the recycling process: When plastics are heated in the recycling process, this can generate new toxic chemicals that make their way into the recycled plastics. For example, brominated dioxins are created when plastics containing brominated flame retardants are recycled, and a stabilizer used in plastic recycling can degrade to a highly toxic substance found in recycled plastics. Sorting challenges and the presence of certain packaging components in sorted materials can also lead to toxicity in recycled plastic. Studies have shown that benzene (a carcinogen) can be created by mechanical recycling of PET#1 plastic, even with very low rates of contamination by PVC#3 plastic, resulting in the cancer-causing chemical being found in recycled plastics.
Dr. Therese Karlsson, Science Advisor with the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), said: “Plastics are made with toxic chemicals, and these chemicals don’t simply go away when plastics are recycled. The science clearly shows that plastic recycling is a toxic endeavor with threats to our health and the environment all along the recycling stream. Simply put, plastic poisons the circular economy and our bodies, and pollutes air, water, and food. We should not recycle plastics that contain toxic chemicals. Real solutions to the plastics crisis will require global controls on chemicals in plastics and significant reductions in plastic production.”
The devastating impacts of the escalating overproduction of plastic heightens the need to accelerate refill- and reuse-based systems—but not with expanded plastic recycling efforts. In addition to the health concerns associated with the use of recycled plastics, the report notes that increased plastic recycling means expanding toxic health and environmental threats throughout the recycling stream, threats that unequally impact the most vulnerable communities.
At the Paris talks, Greenpeace is advocating for a seven-point plan that the Global Plastics Treaty should:
- Achieve immediate, significant reductions in plastic production, establishing a pathway to end virgin plastic production.
- Promote a shift to refill- and reuse-based economies, creating jobs and standards in new reuse industries and supporting established zero-waste practices.
- Support a just transition for workers across the plastics supply chain, prioritizing waste pickers who collect approximately 60% of all plastic that is collected for recycling globally.
- Promote non-combustion technologies for plastic waste stockpiles and waste disposal.
- Institute the “polluter pays” principle for plastic waste management and for addressing the health and environmental costs throughout the plastics life cycle.
- Significantly improve regulation, oversight, safety and worker protections for existing recycling facilities.
- Require transparency about chemicals in plastics and eliminate all toxic additives and chemicals used in the plastics life cycle.