A Global Plastics Treaty to “Turn Off the Tap” Wins Support at UNEA

In what is being heralded as a historic win for advocates working to tackle the plastic pollution crisis, parties to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) have agreed on a mandate to negotiate a legally binding treaty addressing the full life cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.

Over 1,000 civil society groups, 450 scientists, one million individuals, and numerous governments called on the UN to commit to negotiating a treaty that is legally binding and covers the entire life cycle of plastic—from extraction to disposal.

As 1,500 delegates from 193 countries convened at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) this week in Nairobi, Kenya, they were greeted by a stunning spectacle—a giant plastic tap. The 30-foot-tall art installation, a recreation of an earlier project by artist/activist Ben Von Wong, was assembled and presented in collaboration with the Human Needs Project, which supplied thousands of pieces of plastic from Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, located less than 10 miles from where the delegates convened. Over 100 jobs were provided to underserved local communities who participated in the art installation’s assembly.

The visceral image of a massive plastic tap spewing plastic pollution was especially relevant for the UNEA meeting, where world leaders discussed the creation of a mandate for negotiating a Global Plastics Treaty, which would provide the first comprehensive global agreement on plastic pollution—a crisis that affects the entire planet.

Individuals may continue to sign on and encourage world leaders to support a bold & binding global plastics treaty that covers the entire life cycle of plastic.

One Million Voices Represented at UNEA

On March 2, 2022, organizations and activists from the Break Free From Plastic movement, on the ground in Nairobi, delivered the message that more than one million people have signed onto petitions calling for a legally binding global plastics treaty that covers the full life cycle of plastic. Others sent the message from afar.

Their collective message, captured in Von Wong’s latest work of art, is that the conversation around plastics is too often focused on false downstream solutions like clean up and recycling—ignoring the fact that most plastic cannot be recycled and ends up incinerated, in landfills, or in oceans and waterways. These false solutions, which have been propagated by the fossil fuel industry for decades, blame the consumer for an inability to clean up a product that never goes away. The real solution and opportunity is getting plastic production back under control by making sure we #TurnOffThePlasticTap. The Global Plastics Treaty is an opportunity to do just that.

The negotiation of the treaty will continue for the next two years. 

Plastic Pollution Coalition will host a webinar on March 16, 2022, with advocates who were on the ground in Nairobi at UNEA 5.2, to discuss the developments there and how the process will now unfold.


Ben Von Wong’s work lies at the intersection of fantasy and photography and combines everyday objects with shocking statistics. His art has attracted the attention of corporations and NGOs alike and has generated over 100 million views for causes like ocean plastics, electronic waste, and fashion pollution. Most recently, he was named one of Adweek’s 11 content-branded masterminds. He is also the host of the Impact Everywhere Podcast and a creative advisor for the Ocean Plastic Leadership Network and the Sustainable Ocean Alliance.

More than 67,000 people urge the U.S. Government to support a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty addressing the full life cycle of plastics

#breakfreefromplastic movement members deliver petition to the U.S. Department of State, emphasizing the need for a bold and binding global instrument coming out of UNEA-5.2

WASHINGTON — Today, environmental advocates with the #breakfreefromplastic movement met with a staff member from the U.S. Department of State to deliver 67,482 signatures calling for the United States to support a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty covering measures along the entire life cycle of plastic at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) beginning next week.

Individuals may continue to sign on to support the call for a bold, binding treaty ahead of UNEA 5.2.

Following the recent announcements from governments, including the United States, France, Canada, and South Korea, supporting a full life cycle approach to a plastics treaty, leading environmental and health advocates have celebrated the governments’ recognition that plastic pollutes at every stage of its life cycle, while continuing to push governments to commit to legally-binding provisions and obligations.

“We are encouraged by last week’s announcement that the United States will support a full life cycle approach to a plastic treaty, but this must be coupled with action both at and away from the negotiating table,” explained Jane Patton, Plastics & Petrochemicals Campaign Manager with Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Today, we are joining thousands of individuals in calling on the Biden Administration to start negotiations on a plastics treaty that centers human rights, environmental justice, protecting the climate, and biodiversity. That commitment must start with laying the foundation for robust, meaningful treaty negotiations and continue in efforts to end the dramatic expansion of plastic production that is putting human rights, ecosystems, and our shared climate at risk in countries around the world.”

More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year, and the U.S. generates the most plastic waste per capita of any country. With this in mind, #breakfreefromplastic movement members and allies are demanding the U.S. government agree to a mandate coming out of UNEA-5.2 with specific legally-binding provisions and obligations covering the entire life cycle of plastics—from extraction, production, use, and disposal to remediation—in order to prevent and remediate pollution from plastic and its toxic impacts.

“We are urging President Biden to support a bold and binding treaty that addresses the entire life cycle of plastic,” said John Hocevar, Ocean Campaign Director with Greenpeace USA. “After being one of a handful of countries actively opposing a plastic treaty under the Trump administration, it is very encouraging to see this turnaround. Though it is worrying to see the U.S. mention the inclusion of non-binding commitments in the treaty mandate. Binding commitments are needed in order to ensure government and corporate accountability. We will be looking to the United States to set an example for other governments to follow at UNEA in securing a strong and binding global treaty on plastics to secure a liveable climate and the health of our communities and our environment.”

Environmental advocates with the #breakfreefromplastic movement, including Julia Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition Managing Director (front), met with a senior State Department official, to deliver 67,482 signatures calling for the United States to support a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty covering measures along the entire life cycle of plastic at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2). Photo credit: © Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

Plastic pollution is an environmental justice issue, as it disproportionately harms communities of color, low-income communities and Indigenous communities at every stage of its life cycle by polluting the air, water, and soil. This toxic pollution occurs at fossil fuel extraction sites, petrochemical facilities, and other “upstream” sources, as well as at landfills, incinerators, and other “downstream” sources.

In addition to domestic concerns, the United States also contributes to the global plastic crisis by exporting approximately 225 shipping containers of plastic waste per day to countries with limited or nonexistent waste management systems, where plastic may be crudely processed in unsafe facilities and incinerated in open areas, creating additional pollution and health problems. The government has a responsibility to hold corporations accountable for this “waste colonialism” by establishing and enforcing legally-binding requirements for plastic producers, including a ban on plastic waste exports.

“The latest 2021 data shows that the United States is not taking responsibility for our own plastic waste, but is still flooding non-OECD countries with 361 million kg (68,000 shipping containers) per year,” explained Jan Dell, a chemical engineer and Founder of The Last Beach Cleanup.

“Instead of taking responsibility for its own waste, the United States has been exporting its plastic pollution first to Asia, then to Africa, and now all over Latin America,” added Lucia Fernandez, International Coordinator with the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers / Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and a member of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). “We will be watching to see if the U.S. will follow through on its promises and finally stop its colonialist approach by committing to a strong, legally binding Plastics Treaty.”

Julia Cohen, Managing Director at Plastic Pollution Coalition, said: “Plastic Pollution Coalition has been working on this issue for more than 12 years. We are heartened to see the U.S. government and others announcing their support for a full life cycle approach to a plastics treaty. We are grateful for the support and progress, but we don’t have time to wait for action; we need to see an expedited process to negotiate and implement a bold and binding global plastics treaty.”

Environmental advocates with the #breakfreefromplastic movement, including Julia Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition Managing Director (center), delivered 67,482 signatures to the State Department calling for the United States to support a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty covering measures along the entire life cycle of plastic at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2). Photo credit: © Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

Contact: 

Brett Nadrich, Break Free From Plastic, brett@breakfreefromplastic.org, +1-929-269-4480

Capucine Dayen, Greenpeace USA, capucine.dayen@greenpeace.org, +33-647-971-819

Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), claire@no-burn.org, +1-973-444-4869

Cate Bonacini, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), cbonacini@ciel.org, +1-202-742-5847

Jen Fela, Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), jen@plasticpollutioncoalition.org, +1.323.936.3010 x705 

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,000 organizations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.

GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. 

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) uses the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL seeks a world where the law reflects the interconnection between humans and the environment, respects the limits of the planet, protects the dignity and equality of each person, and encourages all of earth’s inhabitants to live in balance with each other.

Today at the One Ocean Summit, the United States, France, Canada, and South Korea announced their commitment to a binding treaty to tackle plastic pollution at all stages of its life cycle. This announcement comes ahead of the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2), which will be held February 28–March 2, 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Nearly 1,000 organizations have signed on to a call for the United Nations to negotiate a new legally binding global instrument that covers plastic pollution across its entire life cycle—from extraction to disposal. These organizations represent civil society, indigenous peoples, workers and trade unions, and other organizations, as well as scientists from around the world.

Plastic Pollution Coalition, along with other organizations in the Break Free From Plastic movement, expressed their support for the announcements.

We are pleased to see these strong commitments towards a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. It is critical that a new global plastics treaty address the plastics crisis at all stages of its life cycle. We invite world leaders to join in to pursue and negotiate a bold and binding treaty that will help us build a better future.

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Individuals may also sign on to support the call for a bold, binding treaty ahead of UNEA 5.2.

Media Contact:

Jen Fela, Vice President, Programs & Communications, jen@plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.

News outlets and environmental groups worldwide have been abuzz recently about the need for a “Global Plastics Treaty,” leaving many to wonder what this proposed treaty is all about and why it’s being discussed on such a large scale now.

Nearly 1,000 organizations have signed on to a call for the United Nations to negotiate a new legally binding global instrument that covers plastic pollution across its entire life cycle—from extraction to disposal. These organizations represent civil society, indigenous peoples, workers and trade unions, and other organizations, as well as scientists from around the world.

You can sign on too and encourage world leaders to support a bold & binding global plastics treaty.

Why Now?

These calls to action come at a crucial time, as representatives from around the world are set to meet at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in Nairobi from February 28–March 2, 2022. UNEA 5.2 brings together the 193 Member States of the United Nations, businesses, civil society (of which Plastic Pollution Coalition is a part), and other stakeholders to discuss and agree on policies to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. When representatives from around the world convene at the assembly in late February, the decisions they make will set the stage for how a new global plastics treaty will develop going forward. 

We demand governments agree to a mandate coming out of UNEA 5.2 with specific legally-binding provisions and obligations covering the entire life cycle of plastics–from extraction, production, use, disposal, and remediation. It’s time for governments to prioritize the health of people and the planet over profit and corporate greed.

BreakFreeFromPlastic

This is a critical moment to tell world leaders to support the Peru-Rwanda resolution which is the best foundation we have for a bold and binding global plastics treaty that will cover the full life cycle of plastics.

Industry will likely push for a global plastics treaty that is focused downstream, on “marine litter,” “ocean plastics,” or “waste management”, all of which avoid addressing the full impact of the plastic life cycle and would allow the fossil fuel industry to keep producing endless amounts of plastic and companies to continue greenwashing.

The Problem with Plastic—From Extraction to Disposal

Plastic pollutes at every stage of its existence, from extraction, use, to disposal:

  • Over 300 million pounds of plastic is produced each year. Petroleum is first drilled and extracted from the Earth, polluting local environments and communities and contributing to climate change. The petroleum is then refined at petrochemical plants that harm frontline communities with toxic air and water pollution and worsen the climate crisis.
  • Residual toxic chemicals from plastic leach into products which are consumed and digested, as well as absorbed by humans and animals contributing to a number of issues, including infertility.
  • After disposal, the plastic that isn’t incinerated or dumped in a landfill enters the ocean and waterways, or is shipped overseas to countries with often even less waste management infrastructure. 

What a Bold, Binding Global Plastics Treaty Must Include

While many governments worldwide have enacted legislation that addresses plastic pollution, these measures are largely focused on reduction (e.g., bans on specific single-use products or packaging). So far, there is very little comprehensive legislation that addresses the harmful impacts plastics pose across its full life cycle, taking into account extraction and refining, limiting the toxic chemicals used to produce plastics that make them unsafe for recycling and disposal, and incentivizing systemic shifts towards reuse and refill. That is why we need a bold Global Plastics Treaty that must:

  • Be legally binding,
  • Cover the whole lifecycle of plastic,
  • Have an open mandate to address any issues relevant to plastic,
  • Include transparent reporting, and
  • Include technical & financial assistance.

Take Action

Add your name and tell world leaders to support a legally binding global treaty on plastic pollution that addresses the entire life cycle of plastics, including extraction, production, transport, use, disposal, and remediation.