The Effort to Reduce Plastic Production Moves Forward

Image by Jas Min.

Plastic pollution continues to be a global problem and one of the main challenges of addressing it is identifying where the plastic products come from and who
produced them.

Nations made progress on a treaty to end plastic pollution as their fourth round of talks ended on Tuesday in Canada, as reported by AP. Delegates from 175 countries and observers discussed a draft of what is to become a global treaty on ending the
scourge of plastics that are found around the world.

For the first time, negotiators discussed the text of what is supposed to become a
global treaty. Delegates and observers at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution called it a welcome sign that talk finally shifted from just ideas to actual treaty language.

The most contentious issue surrounds the idea of limiting how much plastic is
manufactured. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels and chemicals, and plastic-producing countries and companies and oil and gas exporters have strongly objected in the past to any limitations on production.

The committee in Ottawa agreed to keep working on the treaty before its final meeting later this year in South Korea.

In March 2022, at the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), a historic resolution was adopted to develop an international legally
binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

The resolution (5/14) requested the Executive Director of the UN Environment
Programme (UNEP) to convene an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop “the instrument,” which is to be based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

The INC began its work during the second half of 2022, with the ambition to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024. The first session of the INC (INC-1) took place in Punta del Este, Uruguay from 28 November to 2 December 2022, followed by a second session (INC-2) from 29 May to 2 June 2023 in Paris, France, and a third session (INC-3) from 13 to 19 November 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. The fourth session (INC-4) took place from April 23 -29 in Ottawa, Canada.

A first-of-its-kind study published recently in the journal Science Advances and which included researchers from a dozen universities around the world, found that, for every 1 percent increase in the amount of plastic a company uses, there is an associated 1 percent increase in its contribution to global plastic litter.

Astoundingly, the study found that just six companies create about a quarter of global plastic waste, with the top five brands globally being The Coca-Cola Company (11%), PepsiCo (5%), Nestlé (3%), Danone (3%), and Altria (2%) —the parent company of Philip Morris USA—and Philip Morris International, accounting for 24% of the total branded count, while 56 other companies accounted for more than 50%.

In other words, if Coca-Cola is producing one-tenth of the world’s plastic, the research suggests that the beverage company is responsible for a whopping ten percent of the identifiable plastic litter on beaches or in parks, rivers, and other ecosystems.

According to the study, food and beverage companies are disproportionately large polluters and phasing out single-use and short-lived plastic products by the largest polluters would greatly reduce global plastic pollution.

With a proclaimed change in tone and energy during the Ottawa talks, delegates and representatives are optimistic that we can end plastic pollution by 2040.

But unless the companies listed in the Science Advances study take its findings seriously, plastic pollution will remain a serious threat for the foreseeable future.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.