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Global Plastic Treaty

Syllabus: Environment Conservation

 Source: Th

 Context:  The ongoing discussions in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) of the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for a global treaty on plastic pollution prompt considerations for a fair transition for informal waste workers.

  

What is the Global Plastic Treaty? 

The Global Plastics Treaty, initiated in 2021, is a pivotal international effort aimed at combatting plastic pollution on a global scale. Established during the fifth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, the treaty has progressed through various meetings worldwide, including Dakar, Senegal; Uruguay; Paris, France; Nairobi, Kenya; and Canada, with the final meeting set for South Korea.

Notably, the International Alliance of Waste Pickers has played a significant role, advocating for the inclusion of informal waste pickers in the treaty discussions to promote sustainable waste management and equitable policies.

  

What are Plastics? 

Plastics are materials that can be shaped when soft and then hardened to maintain their form. They are polymers, composed of many repeating units. Plastics fall into two main categories: thermoplastics, which can be melted and reshaped repeatedly, and thermosets, which become rigid when heated and cannot be remelted.

Global Plastic Treaty
Global Plastic Treaty

  

 

Issues with the Plastics:

Global Plastics ProblemFacts
Increase in Plastic WasteProduction reached 353M tonnes in 2019, expected to triple by 2060
Low Recycling RatesOnly 9% recycled globally, 50% sent to landfills, 19% incinerated
Informal Sector’s RoleRecycles 85% of the 9% that is recycled, reducing landfill waste
Vulnerability of WorkersFace job losses due to privatization, exclusion from policy discussions
Environmental Impact60M tonnes of plastic pollute the environment annually without the informal sector

 

What should the Global Plastic Treaty contain? 

  1. Global Objectives: The treaty targets marine and environmental pollution caused by plastics, focusing on global goals and ecosystem impact assessment.
  2. Guidelines for International Cooperation: It may outline support mechanisms for wealthier nations to assist poorer ones in achieving plastic reduction objectives.
  3. Prohibitions and Targets: Expect bans on specific plastics, products, and additives, alongside binding targets for recycling and recycled content in consumer goods.
  4. Chemical Testing Mandates: The treaty might mandate testing certain chemicals in plastics for safety and environmental protection.
  5. Consideration for Vulnerable Workers: Details may address a just transition for waste pickers and workers in developing countries reliant on the plastic industry for livelihoods.
  6. Progress Assessment: Provisions for evaluating member states’ progress in implementing plastic pollution reduction measures will ensure accountability and drive continuous improvement.

 

Challenges to such a treaty:

ChallengesDescription
Differences Among CountriesThe “High Ambition Coalition (HAC)” advocates for ambitious goals like ending plastic pollution by 2040 and phasing out single-use plastics. Whereas, the US diverges by promoting voluntary measures over binding commitments. Influence of Industry Interests
Oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran oppose plastic production caps, using delay tactics to hinder discussions
Scope of the AgreementDeciding the agreement’s scope involves questions like coverage of plastic creation and disposal, types of pollution, and ban considerations.
Fossil fuel and chemical corporations seek to weaken the treaty’s impact, opposing production cuts and framing the issue as solely a waste management concern.
Reporting and MonitoringEstablishing a reliable reporting and monitoring system faces challenges, such as concerns over national self-reporting accuracy.
Strategic Financing and GovernanceIncluding strategic financing, circularity support, and governance approaches requires alignment across participating countries.

 

India’s Stance at INC:

  1. India advocates for reaffirming states’ sovereign rights to sustainable development.
  2. India proposes objectives to safeguard human health and the environment from plastic pollution while ensuring sustainable development, emphasizing principles like equity.
  3. Restrictions on Plastic Production: India opposes limitations on primary plastic polymers, arguing they exceed UNEA resolution 5/14’s scope.
  4. Chemicals and Polymers of Concern: India advocates for evidence-based decisions on chemicals.
  5. Midstream Measures: Advocates for nationally determined approaches for downstream measures like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  6. Emissions and Releases: Emphasizes eliminating plastic waste leakage, excluding manufacturing and recycling emissions.
  7. Prioritizing Waste Management: Advocates prioritizing plastic waste management, excluding manufacturing and recycling emissions.
  8. Cross-Cutting Issues: Expresses concerns about cross-cutting issues like trade and financing, insisting on comprehensive assistance and technology transfer.

 

About Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC)

It was formed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in March 2022 to create a global binding agreement on plastic pollution. Its goal is to address plastic’s entire life cycle, including its impact on marine environments and may employ both voluntary and binding measures. The INC has held meetings, including INC-1 in Uruguay in November 2022, INC-2 in France in May-June 2023, and INC-3 in Nairobi in December 2023.

 

Insta Links:

 

Mains Link: 

Q: What are the impediments in disposing the huge quantities of discarded solid waste which are continuously being generated? How do we remove safely the toxic wastes that have been accumulating in our habitable environment? (UPSC 2018)

 

Prelims Links:

Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into the environment? (UPSC 2019)

(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.
(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.
(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fields.
(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.

 

Ans: (a)

 

In India, ‘extend producer responsibility’ was introduced as an important feature in which of the following? (UPSC 2019)

(a) The Bio-medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998

(b) The Recycled Plastic (Manufacturing and Usage) Rules, 1999

(c) The e-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011

(d) The Food Safety and Standard Regulations, 2011

 

 

Ans: (c)