WWF is calling on governments to support global bans and phase outs of the ‘most high-risk and unnecessary’ single-use plastic products – such as plastic cutlery, e-cigarettes and microplastics in cosmetics, among others, ahead of the UN plastic pollution treaty talks taking place in Paris from 29 May – 2 June 2023.
A series of new reports published today – commissioned by WWF and conducted by Eunomia – identifies the most damaging plastic products polluting the environment and proposes global control measures needed to eliminate, reduce or safely manage and circulate these plastics. WWF is advocating for these measures to be included in the treaty text, set to be published in the lead-up to the next round of talks in December 2023.
The research presents solutions for how to address the most urgent plastic pollution challenges under the new global treaty, by splitting plastic products into two groups – those that can feasibly be significantly reduced or eliminated in the short term (Class I) and those that cannot currently be feasibly eliminated or significant reduced but require global control measures to promote recycling and responsible management and disposal (Class II). The analysis splits the products into broad categories based on pollution risk, which WWF believes will aid effective regulation at the global level, over legislating for individual plastic items – which can be both complex and open up potential loopholes.
Recognising the complex, interconnected and pervasive relationship society has built with plastics, the analysis also considers any unintended environmental, health and societal consequences of eliminating or replacing a certain type of plastic.
“We’re locked into a system where we’re now producing quantities of plastic well beyond what any country can properly deal with, resulting in a plastic pollution crisis affecting the environment as well as society,” says Marco Lambertini, WWF Special Envoy. “And if we don’t take action right now, the situation’s only going to get worse. On our current trajectory, by 2040 global plastic production will double, plastic leakage into our oceans will triple and the total volume of plastic pollution in our oceans will quadruple. We cannot allow this to happen. Plastic pollution is a global problem that requires a global solution. Negotiators must heed the guidance in this report and work together to create a treaty with comprehensive and specific binding global rules that can turn the tide on the plastic crisis.”
While plastic is cheap and versatile, with countless uses across many industries, almost half of all plastic is used to create short-lived or single-use products that can spend hundreds of years degrading – and most of which are consumed in high and upper-middle income countries. Research shows that by 2015, 60% of all plastics ever produced had already reached their end of life and been discarded. Globally, less than 10% of plastic products are recycled.
“Many countries are already implementing measures, from bans of plastic items such as bags or straws and stirrers, to microbeads in cosmetics or single-use food and beverage items,” says Lambertini. “But we know this isn’t enough. We need coordinated approaches led by globally agreed rules that can make a difference at scale and put every country and company on the same level playing field. It’s 2023. There’s no logical reason to keep many single-use plastic products in circulation globally when we know they’re causing so much damage; polluting waterways and choking the oceans and entering our own food chain. There’s so much technology at the industry’s fingertips to provide more sustainable alternatives and substitutes. We need regulation and incentives to support this transition by sparking innovation and boosting trade in sustainable alternatives.”
Despite regulation and voluntary measures at national levels, efforts haven’t proven enough to stop plastic leaking into the environment in one location, and ending up hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away. Single-use plastics, microplastics and lost or discarded fishing equipment – known as “ghost gear” – now make up the majority of plastic pollution in the ocean.
Czarina Constantino-Panopio, Program Manager of the No Plastics in Nature Initiative of WWF-Philippines, shares that, “We have seen in the Philippines that many communities are faced with the challenge of a barrage of plastic waste flooding their lives coupled with limited infrastructure that could deal with such. Eliminating high-risk and unnecessary single-use plastics is thus the first step towards creating an inclusive circular economy with the plastic pollution treaty ensuring the recognition of all stakeholders that may be affected.”
Following a promising start at the first Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC) meeting last year, negotiators must now flesh out the details of the treaty text to most effectively and equitably tackle plastic pollution.