A Mixed Reception at Talks on an Anti-Pollution Plastic Treaty

Late Monday, in Ottawa, Canada, the United Nations (UN) closed the fourth of five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop a global agreement to address plastic pollution. Unfortunately, INC-4 closed on a low note, with observers witnessing negotiators prioritize politics and profits over people and the planet by delaying and watering down critical work ahead of INC-5. 

Like the three previous negotiating sessions, INC-4 saw its share of challenges. In particular, the increasing presence of fossil fuel, plastic, and petrochemical industry representatives is proving a growing threat to effective and honest negotiations, and Indigenous and frontline groups were still denied full and equitable participation in the session—especially when compared to industry reps. 

On a high note, the negotiations saw significant representation of Indigenous and frontline communities, and members of the Break Free From Plastic movement. Together, these groups emphasized to U.S. and world leaders that plastic poisons people, and that an effective treaty must include a reduction in plastic production and environmental justice for all.

Action & Art Communicate the Costs of Plastic Pollution

BFFP members and allies from around the world, led by Indigenous and frontline communities, come together in a mass mobilization at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) meetings in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by Greenpeace

Ahead of INC-4, on Sunday, April 21, hundreds of impacted community leaders and experts from around the world marched together in the streets of Ottawa to advance a strong plastics treaty. Led by Indigenous peoples and impacted community leaders, Break Free From Plastic movement members and allies peacefully demanded a human-based approach to the treaty at the March to End the Plastic Era, and marked a pivotal “make or break” moment for the negotiations.

A week ahead of the talks, PPC Scientific Advisor “Her Deepness” Dr. Sylvia Earle read “Foliage,” a powerful statement on the importance of a strong UN Plastics Treaty written by PPC Notable Writer Margaret Atwood. The video, which was shared widely online, was created in collaboration with the Gallifrey Foundation, Mission Blue, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Break Free From Plastic.

On the eve of the start of INC-4, Actor and Plastic Pollution Coalition Notable Member Jeff Bridges, in collaboration with the Break Free From Plastic movement, launched a new video calling on world leaders to create a strong UN Plastics Treaty as the fourth round of negotiations (INC-4) begin in Ottawa, Canada. The video premiered at a well-attended Earth Day screening of the documentary “Plastic People” in Ottawa.

As INC-4 opened on Tuesday, April 23, delegates and observers were welcomed to the Shaw Center by the art installation “Turn Off the Plastic Tap” by Plastic Pollution Coalition Artist Ally Benjamin Von Wong. His piece communicated the core solution to addressing plastic pollution, and a necessary component of the UN Plastics Treaty: Nations must agree to significantly reduce and cap industries’ plastic production. To use a helpful analogy: If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t just start mopping water off of the floor—first you’d turn off the tap!

Madison Dennis, Project Manager, and Jen Fela, Vice President of Programs and Communications at Plastic Pollution Coalition in front of Benjamin Von Wong’s “Turn Off the Plastic Tap” in Ottawa

Facts & Real Solutions Discussed at INC-4

Participants in the March to End the Plastic Era gathered in front of the INC-4 conference center and highlighted the need for a legally-binding treaty on plastic pollution. Photo by Ben Powless | Survival Media Agency

Members of Indigenous communities, frontline communities, scientists, and allies tirelessly expressed the world’s need for a UN Plastics Treaty that protects human health and addresses plastic pollution in every stage of its “life cycle.” Plastic’s “life cycle” begins with extraction of its fossil fuel ingredients, and continues through its use, storage, shipping, and disposal.

BFFP members and allies at a special plastic pollution event held by Ottawa Riverkeeper. Photo by Ottawa Riverkeeper

Throughout its toxic existence, plastic has negative health impacts on the planet and people, especially people living on the frontlines of industrial activities and infrastructure—which were widely discussed at INC-4. Health experts discussed how plastics appear to increase the growth of cancer cells, as well as impair the fertility and pregnancy, and reduce human sperm counts. Plastics have created a triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss — crises that are driving widespread environmental injustice.

Several countries appeared to be listening to those expressing the truths about plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. Perú, Rwanda, and Pacific Island States emphasized the importance of focusing the treaty on addressing plastic pollution at the source to minimize these harms. These nations in support of an ambitious treaty stressed the need to address production of plastics (“primary plastic polymers,” or PPP), in a proposal for intersessional work. What’s more, several other nations created the Bridge to Busan Declaration on Plastic Polymers, to support incorporating text addressing plastic production in the treaty in time for the fifth and final round of negotiations in Busan in December.

While these key messages are getting directly to the people who need to hear them, unfortunately the majority of people who can—and need to act—are not yet doing the right thing.

Video by Survival Media Agency

Industry Influence Hampers Progress We Need

Cartoon by Visual Thinkery

Despite a handful of nations taking an ambitious approach to the treaty, after a week of negotiations, most countries appeared to be influenced by the industry presence at the talks, and ultimately delayed planning for crucial intersessional (between INCs) work ahead of INC-5. And when intersessional work was finally agreed on, countries compromised to exclude upstream measures, which means it will be more challenging to include key extraction or production reduction measures in the draft plastics treaty. This low-ambition compromise is disappointing, and is a major missed opportunity to comprehensively address the root causes of plastic pollution: fossil fuel and plastic production.

Such low-ambition efforts are unfortunately not a surprise as fossil fuel interests have only been increasing their presence at the negotiations. During the talks, analysis of the UNEP list of INC-4 participants showed that 196 lobbyists for the fossil fuel, petrochemical, and plastics industries had registered for the negotiations—a 37% increase in industry presence compared to INC-3 only six months ago. Industry representatives outnumbered the members of the Scientists’ Coalition for An Effective Plastic Treaty by a factor of 3 to 1, and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus by a factor of 7 to 1. 

At the talks, industry representatives peddled false solutions and narratives, including recycling and plastic offsets, both of which only perpetuate fossil fuel and plastic production. They also promoted “demand-side measures” to address plastic production, falsely suggesting that people—not plastic production—drive demand for plastic products. INC-4 attendees and people working in, residing in, and visiting Ottawa saw pro-plastic industry ads displayed around the city. This, despite attendees calling for strong conflict-of-interest policies to be implemented at this and past INCs.

Plastic Pollution Coalition on the Ground

Jen Fela delivers PPC Business Member statement to U.S. Under Secretary Jose Fernandez

At INC-4, Plastic Pollution Coalition focused on discussions with the delegation of the U.S.—one of the world’s biggest plastic producers with a long history of supporting the fossil fuel and plastics industries— which has not yet taken a strong approach to the UN Plastics Treaty. Jen Fela, Vice President of Programs & Communications, and Madison Dennis, Project Manager, together delivered a statement signed by dozens of Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members that advocates for a UN Plastics Treaty that prioritizes systemic solutions to plastic pollution. They also shared with U.S. delegates their Reuse Solutions and Technologies Brief, which provides the U.S. State Department with specific examples of technologies and products that have been proven to create jobs, regenerate land and waters, protect human health, and mitigate plastic pollution, from reuse to regenerative materials—and will help us end plastic pollution.

Plastic Pollution Coalition also held a well-attended event at the Plastic Action Zone, hosted by the government of Canada. The event was focused on the recently launched Global Plastic Laws database and resource center, which tracks local, national, and regional legislation addressing the full plastic life cycle around the world and provides analysis and commentary from local experts. The panel, moderated by Madison Dennis; included Jen Fela; Justine Malliot, European Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic; Lilly Woodbury, Regional Manager of Surfrider Foundation Canada; and Ron Gutierrez, Executive Director of Upholding Life And Nature (ULAN).

Madison Dennis, Jen Fela, Justine Malliot, Lilly Woodbury, and Ron Gutierrez at Global Plastic Laws database and resource center INC-4 side event

Take Action

The fifth and final negotiating session, INC-5, is scheduled for November 25–December 1, 2024, in Busan, Republic of Korea. Ahead of the last INC session, we can see that there are obstacles, such as industry influence and delay tactics from low ambition delegations, that lie ahead in finalizing a strong, binding agreement to end plastic pollution. However, the opportunity to deliver one of the most significant global agreements in history remains on the table.

The clock is running out to finalize this “once-in-a-planet” opportunity to finalize an effective global agreement that addresses the full “life cycle” of plastic pollution by 2025. Yet, negotiators need to know that there is still time to take meaningful action that could help finalize an effective treaty. You can help by signing petitions to the U.S. Government and world leaders, and by amplifying the voices of people on the frontlines of the crisis.

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April 25 , 1:25 pm 2:45 pm EDT

The event focuses on mechanisms for the plastics treaty’s effective implementation with emphasis on access to information, monitoring, capacity building, financial mechanisms, and compliance and enforcement approaches integral to the treaty’s success. It aims to address the treaty’s ambitious goals and regional challenges by leveraging global experience in environmental law compliance. The discussions will include innovative review mechanisms and the importance of transparent reporting for accountability. They will also explore sustainable financing models for supporting the treaty’s objectives and mitigating plastic pollution.

A buffet lunch will be available from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM ET. This will provide an opportunity for attendees to network and enjoy a meal before the discussions commence at 1:25 PM.

Today, Actor Jeff Bridges, in collaboration with Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Break Free From Plastic movement, launched a new video calling on world leaders to create a strong UN Plastics Treaty as the fourth round of negotiations (INC-4) begin in Ottawa, Canada. The video premiered at an Earth Day screening of the documentary “Plastic People” in Ottawa on the eve of the start of INC-4.

Plastic is made from oil, and a strong UN Plastics Treaty would address the full “life cycle” of plastics, including fossil fuel extraction, plastic production, use, and disposal. 

As “Plastic People” shows, plastics and the chemicals in plastics have been linked to cancer, diabetes, obesity, hormone problems, fertility issues, and more.

The evidence is clear. Plastic poisons people. For the sake of our own health, future generations, nature, and all life on our beautiful planet, we need a UN Plastics Treaty that limits plastic production and supports communities—especially people living near petrochemical, plastic, and waste facilities around the world.

— Jeff Bridges 

Sign the petition urging world leaders to support a strong UN Plastics Treaty now. 

About Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges is an award-winning actor from Los Angeles, California, who has starred in more than 50 films during his long Hollywood career. He is also known for his charitable work, including environmental advocacy, as well as his music, drawing, and photography. Jeff Bridges is a Notable Member of Plastic Pollution Coalition.

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April 24 , 8:45 am 9:30 am EDT

Alarming new research suggests a disturbing link between plastic and a 79% surge in early-onset cancers. World-renowned pathologist, Professor Lukas Kenner, is terrified by his findings – and he’s bringing them to the UN Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Ottawa.

Resilient Foundation, Plastic Soup Foundation, A Plastic Planet and the Plastic Health Council invite you to meet Kenner and other expert health scientists as they reveal their latest, cutting edge discoveries and extensive research linking plastics to human health. Join us to:

  • Watch an exclusive mini-documentary of Kenner explaining how plastic impacts cancer formation and the story behind his discoveries;
  • Engage in a candid discussion and Q&A with Prof Lukas Kenner, Dr Pete Myers, Dr Jane Muncke and Dr Christos Symeonides as they answer the critical question: is plastic making us sick?
  • Discuss actionable solutions: chart a course for policy, industry and public action to protect the health of future generations.

Presenters:

  • Professor Lukas Kenner, Medical University of Vienna, LinkedIn
  • Dr. Pete Myers, Environmental Health Sciences, LinkedIn
  • Dr. Jane Muncke, Food Packaging Forum, LinkedIn
  • Dr. Christos Symeonides, Minderoo Foundation, LinkedIn
  • Sian Sutherland, A Plastic Planet, LinkedIn

Location: O’Born Room, National Arts Centre, 1 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5W1, Canada