Plastics At UNEA: Expert Group Makes Gains On Substance

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) and parties to several global environmental instruments have taken an interest in plastic pollution, especially marine plastic litter and microplastics, recognising it as a serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern which requires an urgent and global response.

Following UNEA3 and UNEA4, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) formed an Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHOEEG) of member states, industry representatives, and civil society experts to analyze information and present options to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics. Updates have previously been reported from the 1st and 2nd meetings, and the Expert Group met for the 3rd time 18 – 22 November 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand.

Members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement and broader civil society have been active through UNEAs and the AHOEEG meetings to prioritize the urgency of the global plastic crisis and its harms across the full supply chain and life cycle. The more than 2,000 member organizations of #breakfreefromplastic worldwide have endorsed the pursuit of a new legally binding global governance structure for plastics, based on a four-pillar strategy.

Dozens of delegates, scientists, and other experts met (Nov 18-22) to plan a process for taking stock of activities underway around the world to curb plastic discharge into the world’s oceans and identifying the gaps of coverage in those activities. After five days of discussion, the path forward will be complicated but experts remain optimistic that an aggressive work schedule through 2020 will lead to global action on this urgent issue.

Read the full update, via CIEL and Break Free From Plastic.

Major Plastic Waste Producers Must Get Consent Before Exporting their Toxic Trash to Global South

MAY 10, 2019 – For more information, visit #breakfreefromplastic

Geneva, Switzerland — Today, 187 countries took a major step forward in curbing the plastic waste crisis by adding plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another. The amendments require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste, providing an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.

After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle. Norway’s proposed amendments to the Basel Convention provides countries the right to refuse unwanted or unmanageable plastic waste.

The decision reflects a growing recognition around the world of the toxic impacts of plastic and the plastic waste trade. The majority of countries expressed their support for the proposal and over one million people globally signed two public petitions from Avaaz and SumOfUs. Yet even amidst this overwhelming support, there were a few vocal outliers who opposed listing plastic under Annex II of the Basel Convention. These included the United States, the largest exporter of plastic waste in the world; the American Chemistry Council, a prominent petrochemical industry lobbying group; and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a business association largely comprised of waste brokers. As the United States is not a party to the Basel Convention, it will be banned from trading plastic waste with developing countries that are Basel Parties but not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

David Azoulay, Environmental Health Director, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL): “Today’s decision demonstrates that countries are finally catching up with the urgency and magnitude of the plastic pollution issue and shows what ambitious international leadership looks like. Plastic pollution in general and plastic waste in particular remain a major threat to people and the planet, but we are encouraged by the decision of the Basel Convention as we look to the future bold decisions that will be needed to tackle plastic pollution at its roots, starting with reducing production.”
Contact: David Azoulay, +41 78 75 78 756, dazoulay@ciel.org

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free from Plastic: “This is a crucial first step towards stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations. Countries at the receiving end of mixed and unsorted plastic waste from foreign sources now have the right to refuse these problematic shipments, in turn compelling source countries to ensure exports of clean, recyclable plastics only. Recycling will not be enough, however.  Ultimately, production of plastics has to be significantly curtailed to effectively resolve the plastic pollution crisis.”
Contact: Von Hernandez, +63 9175263050, vonhernandez (Skype)

Martin Bourque, Executive Director, Ecology Center: “Recycling is supposed to be part of the solution, this legislation will help prevent it from being a source of pollution. False claims by the plastic industry about plastic recycling resulted in a complete disaster for communities and ecosystems around the globe. This legislation raises the bar for plastic recycling which is good for people and the planet, and will help restore consumer confidence that recycling is still the right thing to do.”
Contact: Martin Bourque, martin@ecologycenter.org

Mageswari Sangaralingam, Research Officer, Friends of the Earth Malaysia: “Controls on the plastic waste trade are much needed now to curb dumping of waste in the Global South. The inclusion of prior informed consent is a step towards addressing the issues of the plastic waste trade and pollution crisis. Recycling is not enough, we need to break free from plastic.”
Contact: Mageswari Sangaralingam, +60128782706, magesling@gmail.com

Dr Tadesse Amera, CoChair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) (Ethiopia): “Africa knows a lot about waste dumping due to our experience with e-waste. This decision will help prevent the continent from becoming the next target of plastic waste dumping after Asia closes its doors.”
Contact: Tadesse Amera, +251911243030 (phone/whatsapp), tadesseamera@ipen.org

Prigi Arisandi, Founder, Ecoton (Indonesia): “We hope these Convention amendments will reduce marine litter — but on the ground in Indonesia we will continue monitoring the waste trade, and pushing our government to properly manage imported plastics. We call on exporting countries to respect their obligation not to dump their rubbish in Global South countries and our government to strictly enforce restrictions and strengthen our custom controls.”
Contact: Prigi Arisandi, +62 8175033042, prigi@ecoton.or.id

Yuyun Ismawati, Co-founder, BaliFokus/Nexus3 Foundation: “This amendment could be a game changer and force every country to set a higher standard of responsible plastic waste management. Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities.”
Contact: Yuyun Ismawati, +447583768707, yuyun@balifokus.asia

Sirine Rached, Global Policy Advocate, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA): “It’s only fair that countries should have the right to refuse plastic pollution shipped to their borders. China had raised the ambition, arguing for countries to have the right to refuse virtually all plastic waste imports, but the final result was a compromise. Since the onslaught of plastic dumping will continue for a year until the measures come into effect, GAIA calls on countries to protect themselves from global plastic waste dumping by banning dirty plastic imports in national law. Countries can tackle the plastic pollution problem while protecting the climate, by focusing on reducing plastics and shifting to Zero Waste systems free from dirty technologies like incineration or plastic-to-fuel.”
Contact: Sirine Rached, +33 6 76 90 02 80, sirine@no-burn.org

Jim Puckett, Executive Director, Basel
Action Network (BAN):
 “Today we have taken a major first step to stem the tide of plastic waste now flowing from the rich developed countries to developing countries in Africa and Asia, all in the name of “recycling,” but causing massive and harmful pollution, both on land and in the sea. A true circular economy was never meant to circulate pollution around the globe. It can only be achieved by eliminating negative externalities and not just pushing them off to developing countries.”
Contact: Jim Puckett, jpuckett@ban.org

Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA): “The Basel amendments are a critical pillar of an emerging global architecture to address plastic pollution. Other international bodies must now do their part, including ambitious measures under the IMO and ultimately a new legally binding UN treaty. The EU was a vocal and active supporter of the Basel amendments, proposing to increase ambition so that only the cleanest of clean plastic waste would not be subject to notification. The EU is not only leading by example but taking its Plastics Strategy to the international level.”

For more information, visit #breakfreefromplastic.

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UNEA-4 Agreement Does Not Deliver at Scale and Urgency Needed

Nairobi, Kenya – At the 4th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), member states of the UN Environment Programme failed to meet expectations to confront the ever-growing plastic-pollution crisis threatening our waterways, ecosystems, and health.

At UNEA-4, member states considered several resolutions designed to increase international action to halt plastic pollution. The first, proposed by Norway, Japan, and Sri Lanka, sought to strengthen international cooperation and coordination on marine plastic litter and microplastics, including through considering a possible new legally binding agreement. The second, proposed by India, sought to promote the phase-out single-use plastics worldwide.

Despite sweeping agreement by the majority of countries that urgent, ambitious, and global action is needed to address plastic across its lifecycle – from production to use to disposal – a small minority led by the United States (US) blocked ambitious text and delayed negotiations. Backed by a strong industry lobby with over $200 billion invested in petrochemical buildout to drastically expand plastic production, the US delegation was able to thwart progress and water down the resolutions, actions that were strongly opposed by many countries, including those most affected by plastic pollution, such as the Pacific Island States, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Senegal. Action-oriented member states did secure, however, the basic elements that will allow the building of future actions, based on the common vision that emerged among the vast majority of countries during the discussions. Most importantly, the mandate of the expert working group established at UNEA-3 was extended to continue its work, including by identifying technical and financial resources or mechanisms, and to report on its progress in considering response options at UNEA-5 in February 2021. The extension of this mandate keeps plastic on the international agenda and provides an opportunity to consider a future legally binding agreement. 

Despite the overall disappointing outcome in not making progress at the speed and scale needed, countries remain committed to pursuing international cooperation and coordination to address the plastic-pollution crisis.

David Azoulay, Environmental Health Director, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL): “At UNEA-4, the vast majority of countries came together to develop a vision for the future of global plastic governance. Seeing the US, guided by the interests of the fracking and petrochemical industry, leading efforts to sabotage that vision is disheartening. But the growing appetite for better global plastic governance is evident, and this UNEA ensured the continuation of a process on which countries can build the future global framework to stop plastic pollution.”

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic: “Corporations should hear the call coming out of UNEA-4: Requirements for reduction are coming. They should support community zero-waste systems around the world by reducing the production of unmanageable waste and reinventing delivery structures for products to eliminate plastic packaging. We have a lot of collaborative work to do in the coming years to create policies and markets that are healthy, responsive to local needs, and based on systems of refill and reuse.” 

Christopher Chin, Executive Director of The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE): “Waste management is an important part of the conversation, but it cannot effectively address the deluge of plastic pollution we all face. We cannot recycle our way out of this problem. While we are certainly disappointed that progress was stifled by industry-embracing obstacles imposed by a distinct few member states, we are encouraged by the otherwise near-universal support for forward action towards upstream solutions and discussions towards solutions considering the full lifecycle of plastics, including a potential new legally binding framework.” 

Fabienne McLellan, Director International Relations, OceanCare: “One cannot help but note that we are heading for yet another failure by some governments to take real action due to nationalistic agendas. The problem is easy to understand, there is enough data, but the blockade of a few, powerful countries isn’t. We are leaving UNEA-4 without a strong decision and are sending a weak signal to the private sector. This is troubling as there should be clear guidance from international bodies towards a sustainable circular economy, a full lifecycle approach, and a call for a global governance architecture.”

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Zero Waste Europe: “The need to confront marine plastic pollution and single-use plastics are undeniably at the top of the global policy agenda, and Zero Waste initiatives at the local level have received recognition. The details of the final resolutions may be weak, but governments have real policy examples to follow, including the recently-adopted EU Directive on single-use plastics and bans on wasteful plastic products at the local and national level. These policies address the production and consumption drivers of plastic pollution. We salute the efforts of the countries and regions who stood strong in this debate in seeking equally ambitious action at the global level.” 

Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA): “Future generations will confront many indescribable problems due to a lack of political will to tackle head on the environmental issues of our time. We do not need to add plastic pollution to that list. Although we regret the lack of urgency displayed by a few bad-faith actors, we are encouraged that the expert group will be reconvened and expect progressive countries to use it as a launch pad for meaningful action at the next UNEA in February 2021.”

Tadesse Amera, CoChair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), Ethiopia: “As the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries are gearing up to escalate plastic and chemical production, governments at UNEA-4 could not curb the power of these private interests. This is concerning as the volume of plastic pollution will grow too. Plastics are toxic. Toxic chemicals -linked to cancer and early puberty in children- are used to make plastics, yet this issue was neglected in the final UNEA-4 outcome. These toxic chemicals additives in plastic are released later, creating toxic liabilities for chemical and plastic producers. In Africa, imported plastic products and plastic waste should be returned back to the producers to protect us from the toxic chemicals in the plastic materials. The industries producing these harmful chemicals should have an extended producer responsibility, and they should pay the costs related to their toxic plastic waste mess. In the big picture, toxics in means toxics out. We can’t recycle toxic plastics and pretend that the marine litter chaos is a waste issues; it’s a toxic product issue.”

Jane Patton, Director, No Waste Louisiana: “Plastic is pollution the minute it is made. We must reduce the production and use of plastic across the board to protect communities and health. No people or places should be sacrificed to corporate profit or a culture of consumption, and we can avoid that by taking into account the full lifecycle impacts of plas
tics. We are optimistic about the ambitious steps our governments will take to prevent plastic pollution, including production reduction, phase out, and investment in zero-waste systems.”

David Sutasurya, Indonesian Zero Waste Alliance: “The plastic industry is polluting developing countries, where they have fewer options of non-plastic alternatives and are directly exposed to plastic pollution every day. Multinational corporations have systematically pushed out local industry that uses much less plastic, in addition to facilitating the import of waste into developing countries from the high-consumption Global North. It is unfair that developing countries are using taxpayers’ money to manage these wastes that can neither be recycled or composted. Framing marine litter as only a waste management problem is nonsense when it’s actually a reflection of the industry’s refusal to take responsibility on the plastic pollution crisis. Multinational companies, together with national plastic industries, are now actively blocking any government effort to hold them accountable and responsible for the waste of their product, including significant reduction of its uses. Developed countries and industries have to be responsible for the waste problem that they create in developing countries and should support legally binding measures on reduction of global plastic production and consumption.”

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) and several global environmental agreements have taken an interest in plastic pollution, especially marine plastic litter and microplastics, recognizing it as a serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern which requires an urgent and global response.

Following the UNEA3 meeting in December 2017, UN Environment formed an Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHOEEG) to present options to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics for global consideration of member states, experts, and civil society. This Expert Group met for the second time December 3-7 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Representatives from members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, attended the meetings and supported a joint call for an international legally binding agreement on plastics and plastic pollution.

More than 90 organizations worldwide have endorsed a proposed four-pillar strategy, which focuses on: coordination and cooperation of existing mechanisms; binding measures to reduce plastic pollution and harmonize legislation; financial support for a new institution and participating developing countries; and technical support to ensure informed, science-based decision-making and avoid false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

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A monumental public sculpture that aims to shed light on the impact of plastic waste in our ocean and inspire Indonesians to take action to stem the tide of plastic pollution at the local and national level was unveiled last week in Sanur, Bali.

Baruna Murthi” is made entirely made of waste materials and inspired by the Balinese tradition of Ogoh-ogoh.  The art piece was launched to mark World Environment Day 2018 and as part of UN Environment’s multi-city art installation all carrying the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution.”

Other installations are planned in Auckland, Bangkok, Beijing, Manila, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and Yangon.

Artwork ranges from abstract to whimsical to cultural. In Hong Kong a giant 400-kilogram sphere of melted plastic will make landfall in Central, while in Auckland a bus-sized windsock created from plastic bags will hang at the city’s Eastern Viaduct. In Bangkok, visitors to Central World mall will be able to pass through 7 massive gates made from tens of thousands of plastic bags.

Based on current research an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean every year. Around 60 percent of this land based plastic waste comes from just five countries, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.  While Indonesia is the second highest contributor, estimated to leak up to 1.29 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean, it is also the second biggest producer of fish and seafood products worldwide which can cause potential hazards not only to marine life but also to human health when fish and seafood contaminated with micro plastic is consumed by humans.

UN Environment (UNEP) in collaboration with the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) led the development of a monumental sculpture in collaboration with the Yayasan Pembangunan Sanur and the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Indonesia.

 “We are working with all sectors to raise awareness about the impact of plastic pollution in the ocean and our marine life,” says Rili Djohani, CTC Executive Director. “We need deliberate action from all sectors and stakeholders to address plastic pollution as it is a local, national and global problem. We hope that Baruna Murthi’s story and significance will inspire more people to care for our oceans and reduce their consumption of single use plastic.”

 The Sanur Community Youth Group (Karang Taruna Sanur Kajah), who has won various Ogoh-ogoh competitions in the past, is leading the creation of “Baruna Murthi” using common waste materials such as plastic bottles, detergent packaging, and plastic cups.

Drawing on Balinese culture and mythology, the sculpture is a depiction of “Baruna” – the Balinese God of the Sea who is furious because of all the trash and plastic pollution in the ocean. Due to his wrath, Baruna has transformed (Murthi) his face into a giant Lionfish (Ikan Barong) to send the message to humans to stop destroying the ocean that gives so much to those on land. 

Baruna Murthi’s artistic team is led by I Gede Wedhana and composed of I Wayan Hendra Pratama Putra, Ida Bagus Putra Mahavira, Komang Angga Wijaksana, Kadek Angga Satria Wibawa, I Kadek Sukmayasa, and Wayan Adi Wicaksana.

“I want to engage the people, whether they are locals or visitors, to not litter especially in beach and coastal area, to use less plastic material and be more mindful in taking care of the environment,” says Wedhana. 

Born in 1995, Wedhana grew up in Sanur and began his artistic pursuits when he was in high school. He learned to make ogoh-ogoh from his local community youth group and has since made 7 ogoh-ogoh sculptures in the last 10 years.

Baruna Murthi is Wedhana’s first attempt in making ogoh-ogoh completely out of waste materials. For this project, he and his team of young artists had to find, collect, and select suitable plastic waste materials to build the sculpture. They then carefully and patiently arranged the waste materials to highlight its significance without losing the aesthetic part of the sculpture.

By representing the sculpture in the form of Baruna Murthi, Wedhana hopes that it can be a reminder for the public that the ocean is not a big trash bin. He said that although Bali maybe small, it is part of a larger ecosystem and what happens here affects the ocean that connects us all. 

UN Environment is asking visitors to the installations to pledge on social media how they will help stop plastic waste. People can post a photo to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution to show how they are making a difference, and tag their friends to join the movement.

Prior to the unveiling of the sculpture, there was a community beach clean up in Segara Beach, Sanur on June 3, 2018 from 7am-8am, to welcome and prepare the area for the installation of Baruna Murthi. where the sculpture will be installed. The beach clean up involves schools and other Bali community members as well as media and other personalities.

After the public display, the sculpture moved to CTC’s Center for Marine Conservation in Sanur, Bali. The sculpture will be a permanent exhibit open to the public, where it will serve as an educational tool for schools as well as for local and international visitors reminding them of their own plastic consumption and how to reduce plastic waste in their personal life.  

Coral Triangle Center is a local non-profit organization based in Bali with a regional scope and global impact. CTC provides education and training to make sure that marine protected áreas within the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity are managed effectively. CTC supports on-the-ground conservation programs through our learning sites in Nusa Penida in Bali and the Banda Islands in Maluku. CTC aims to expand its outreach and impact through its Center for Marine Conservation in Bali, which will serve as a center of excellence for marine conservation training programs and outreach activities to influence approximately 1.5 million people by 2020 to protect and care for the oceans and those that depend on it. Visit coraltrianglecenter.org.

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200+ Countries Sign a UN Resolution to Stop Marine Plastic Pollution

The world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 4-6, where efforts to address global plastic pollution took a significant step forward: world governments agreed to establish a specialist group tasked with examining options to combat marine plastic pollution. The resolution, initiated by Norway, was signed by more than 200 countries.

In a significant development, the resolution establishes a process for ongoing coordinated international action, with the newly established Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group tasked with examining options for combating marine plastic pollution and microplastics from all sources, including through global legally binding mechanisms.

Read the press release from CIEL: UN Initiative Agrees to Spearhead Fight Against Marine Plastic Pollution

Members of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, Zero Waste Europe, CIEL, Environmental Investigation Agency, ESDO, and BALIFOKUS, called for the resolution to include a binding global reduction target of plastics, caps on production and consumption, and requirements for loss prevention, collection, and recycling of all plastics.

While in Nairobi, Break Free From Plastic members created the UNEA3 Progress on Plastics Update. Download Issue 1Issue 2, and Issue 3 of the newsletter. 

Watch: Jane Patton of PPC speak with the BBC on plastic pollution at the UN Environment Summit in Nairobi, Kenya

Of the resolution, the chief of public advocacy at UNEP, Sam Barrat told Reuters: “While this is not a treaty, significant progress is being made… 39 governments announced new commitments to reduce the amount of plastic going into the sea.”

#BreakFreeFromPlastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 1,000 non-governmental organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. Sign up at www.breakfreefromplastic.org.

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