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On-the-ground Engagement at the Upcoming Plastic Pollution Treaty INC-1

On November 26, hundreds of stakeholders from across the globe will travel to Uruguay, to kick off the first of five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

This marks the beginning of formal U.N. member state discussions to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, as outlined in United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) Resolution 5/14. After years of research and discussions, and months of negotiation that led to the March 2022 passage of the historic resolution in Nairobi, this is an exciting time for numerous organizations, companies, scientists, and governments. The goal is to lay the foundation for the treaty text by outlining elements like scope, definitions, data, potential structure for the legally binding and voluntary measures, modes of stakeholder engagement, funding, and other important priorities. The outcomes of this first INC are critical to ensuring that future INCs are successful, so that a draft text is completed within the aggressive 2-year timeline.

Coming together in Uruguay for this monumental gathering is an opportunity to hear perspectives from those across the value chain that not only produce, manufacture, sell, and recycle plastic, but also from those voices who live amongst and deal with plastic pollution every day. Intentional stakeholder engagement is a promised theme of this meeting, with the first event being a multi-stakeholder forum for non-U.N. member states to bring data, lived experiences, and solutions from their communities to the table. Ensuring that this information is used throughout the negotiations will be an important element of the goals outlined in the treaty text and structure for implementation.

Coalition building is not a new approach to solving complex environmental issues that transcend geopolitical boundaries. That’s why The Recycling Partnership will be on-the-ground to bring our inclusive value chain and data-driven, evidence-based approaches to these events in Uruguay. The Partnership will be participating in the multi-stakeholder forum with other NGOs, advocates, and informal sector representatives to exchange ideas, inspire collective action, and help prioritize actions that address the entire lifecycle of plastics. Our staff will continue to support the U.S. State Department with the truth about the U.S. recycling system, providing a roadmap with data about the $17 billion investment needed in the next five years to level up recycling, reduce carbon, improve domestic markets, add green jobs, and support our communities in the face of climate impacts.

The global plastic waste crisis demands measurable, scalable action, driven toward system change. Scaling system impact will take all of us and humanity cannot wait until the draft treaty text is adopted to get started on this planet and life-saving mission. The Partnership also recognizes that no country can solve the plastic waste issue with recycling alone, echoing UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson’s sentiment that “we need a systemic transformation to achieve the transition to a circular economy.”

So how can it be done, and what does success at INC-1 look like from The Partnership’s perspective?

Inclusive stakeholder engagement must be more comprehensive and encompassing during and in-between each INC meeting. Calls-to-action and relevant data from stakeholders must be accounted for every step of the way to prevent the treaty from becoming an inflexible plan that cannot be contextualized per country.

Preventing further plastic pollution must be implemented in a hierarchy that prioritizes reduction, circularity, and management in this order. The continued use of virgin resources must be eliminated from packaging design and companies must be willing to adopt reduction as a key element of their identity and sustainability targets.

Transparent reporting and measurement are crucial to maintain momentum. Negotiators must account for and consider a range of human-centric data and environmental science that clarify how far companies and governments must go to prevent future plastic pollution and climate change impacts.

Achieving circularity means the future waste system must be supported by targeted, multi-level funding that unlocks and dramatically scales private and public dollars, de-risking and shifting supply chains across the globe.

Voluntary efforts will not produce the results our environment and communities deserve. Operating this new system of the future will require extended producer responsibility because it is expensive and burdensome for communities to shoulder alone. Simultaneously, policy and finance must come along together and support innovation.

As a mission-driven NGO, The Partnership’s proven track record and leadership in scaling system change will be invaluable during the course of these negotiations. Since 2014, The Partnership has mobilized people, data, and solutions to reduce waste and impacts on the environment, while also unlocking the economic benefits of a circular economy. This successful multi-pronged approach has engaged communities, companies, and government to drive positive change across the entire value chain. This is the type of inclusive action that is needed.

This will not be an easy road, but we cannot afford to miss out on the chance for bold, catalytic, and urgent action. The Recycling Partnership is excited for the chance to learn, share, and ideate on the ground this November, and we look forward to keeping the engagement going.