The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is describing the new plastic pollution UN treaty (UNEA 5.2 resolution) as a “historic resolution” that aims to end plastic pollution for all and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024.

The International Negotiating Committee will ​begin its work to deliver on the agreement laid out at the UNEA in Kenya during the second half of 2022, with the aim of completing it by the end of 2024. 

The heads of state and representatives from 175 nations endorsed the agreement that aims to address the full lifecycle of plastic from source to sea and UNEP executive director Inger Andersen believes it is the most important international multilateral environmental deal since the Paris climate accord.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which aims to develop and promote the idea of a circular economy, commends UN member states for their determination to act.

The foundation explains the resolution includes explicit references to the circular economy, the full life cycle and sustainable production and consumption.

All of these issues are top of the agenda for many industries, however it is a key focus for the fashion industry in particular as it is seen to be one of the world’s largest carbon polluters and greatest producers of waste.

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The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s founder and chair of trustees, Ellen MacArthur says: “This is a key moment in the effort to eliminate plastic waste and pollution on a global scale. The mandate agreed by UN member states opens the door to a legally binding treaty that deals with the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms. Critically, this includes measures considering the entire lifecycle of plastics, from its production, to product design, to waste management, enabling opportunities to design out waste before it is created as part of a thriving circular economy.”

Andersen adds the new resolution is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it.

The resolution is said to underline the importance of promoting a circular design of products and materials so they can be reused, remanufactured or recycled and therefore retained in the economy for as long as possible.

It also aims to encourage all stakeholders, including the private sector to take action, and asks UN member states to step up their activities and promotes cooperation at the global, regional, national and local levels by recognising the need to strengthen global coordination and governance to take immediate action. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests the resolution is just the beginning and has listed a number of priorities the negotiation process must address to ensure the treaty has a significant impact on a circular economy for plastics. It says the new treaty should: 

  • Include legally binding elements to prevent a patchwork of disconnected solutions, create a level playing field, and set the right enabling conditions to scale up circular economy solutions worldwide.
  • Address the full life cycle of plastics, including product design, aiming to keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment, reduce virgin plastic production and use, and decouple plastic production from the consumption of finite resources.
  • Provide a global common vision and harmonised standards that strengthen global coordination, and align stakeholders behind a common understanding and a shared approach to address plastic pollution. 
  • Recognise the significant contribution made by workers under informal and cooperative settings to collecting, sorting and recycling plastics in many countries, and that they must be included as key stakeholders in the negotiation of the UN treaty on plastic pollution.