The Global Plastics Treaty: what does this mean for business?

At the forefront of the environmental agenda are three critical global issues: rising temperatures, biodiversity loss and chronic pollution, all of which are exacerbated by plastic production, byproducts and waste, creating pollution.  

Each year, over 400 million metric tonnes of plastic waste is produced, and each minute, one bin lorry’s worth of that plastic waste is discarded into our oceans. 

What is the Global Plastics Treaty?

The Global Plastics Treaty aims to address this multifaceted challenge in what is being described as the most significant pact to address global climate-warming emissions since the 2015 Paris Agreement. It will represent the world’s first comprehensive effort to regulate plastic, with objectives ranging from curtailing production and eliminating wasteful uses to banning specific chemicals and establishing ambitious recycling targets.  

The mandate of the treaty is to agree on a legally binding, international agreement to tackle plastic pollution across the entire plastics life cycle, from the initial extraction of fossil fuels for plastics production to the end-of-life disposal of plastic waste. Unsurprisingly, it’s no small feat and requires unification across politically charged countries. But to end something as significant and detrimental as plastic pollution, this alignment is necessary. 

What has been the progress to date?

The fourth of the fifth meetings of country leaders took place in Canada in April, and the final is set to take place in South Korea in November. But with just over 5 months to go, hurdles remain evident and UK national media remains sceptical of the Treaty’s eventual impact and obstacles that might curtail its success, with reference to a lack of alignment across countries and the extent of what is banned underneath the Treaty.  

There’s been dissent from oil producing and refining countries such as Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia, India and Iran and disagreement on whether contentious elements in the treaty should be decided on by a vote or consensus. There are still significant aspects of the mandate to be ironed out. But say alignment is achieved, and we’re heading towards a more unified, plastic-free future: what could this look like for businesses and their plastic use?  

The direct impact on packaging

The use of plastic tubs for every takeaway, sauce sachets in every restaurant and plastic wrap for every online shopping purchase mean that 40% of total plastic waste globally is created by packaging alone.  

Responsibilities on businesses to encourage a reduction of consumer plastic use have been imposed for years such as charging for single use carrier bags and the much debated – and delayed – DRS, however these pieces of legislation haven’t significantly altered plastic production itself and there is now a substantial need to reduce virgin plastic production and use, and this directly impacts packaging. 

The treaty is therefore likely to focus on these types of plastic which are almost certain to end up in the environment, and in the FMCG industry especially, if decision makers aren’t looking to sustainable options for their packaging, this should begin to happen promptly. 

Reusing plastic is one of the biggest opportunities to cut plastic leakage (the spillage of unmanaged plastic that originates on land and reaches the ocean), and the legislative impact that the Treaty could hold will be paramount in encouraging businesses to make this shift from virgin plastic production and use to recycled plastic use. Those plastic items that cannot be eliminated fully must be correctly circulated, keeping them in the economy at their highest value and not letting them end up in landfill, but while EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) policies ensure all industry players fund the collection and treatment of their respective plastic packaging, this is not applied across all countries, therefore unifying this on a global scale will encourage this recycling infrastructure to make a significant impact. 

There is already a Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, which brings together businesses and financial institutions wo are committed to supporting the development of an ambitious, effective and legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution; the positive impact of such is clear from a corporate level. But there are still laggards that don’t feel that the onus is on them to make a change – and they are the companies who are about to feel the impact. 

The end of 2024 should signify a substantial shift in what is expected of businesses when it comes to plastic production and use, through the Global Plastics Treaty. In the meantime, however, businesses should be taking voluntary steps to reducing virgin plastic use, even where they are not mandated. With the ongoing – and growing – onus on businesses to be vocal and held accountable for their active sustainability efforts, it’s imperative that this takes place.  

If you’d like to discuss how we could help your business navigate the milestone Global Plastics Treaty, get in touch today.

Get in touch with the team