IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

In Nairobi, Nations Gather for a Third Round of Talks on an International Plastics Treaty

Delegates from more than 175 countries are gathered in Nairobi to advance a potential diplomatic solution to a global plastic pollution crisis amid a growing awareness of the effect of plastic on the environment and human health.

The United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022 launched a two-year effort to reach a global agreement to stop plastic pollution, and since then, an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee has met twice toward that end.

A third negotiation session starts Monday in Nairobi, after a pre-session by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on Saturday.

Once formal proceedings begin in Nairobi, delegates will find themselves in the midst of a debate over advanced recycling between environmental advocates and industry representatives.

Big Oil and the chemical industry are promoting advanced recycling as a way to help divert plastic waste from landfills and to offset the use of virgin fossil fuels for plastic production. Advanced, or chemical, recycling refers to a range of technologies that take waste plastic and turn it into chemical building blocks of new plastic, and often new fossil fuels and char, a waste residue.

While the zero draft did not include a definition or discussion of advanced or chemical recycling, it did include recycling definitions that precluded turning plastic into fuel or using plastic for energy production.

A plastics treaty could, in the end, be silent on chemical recycling, relying on or referring to other global agreements or guidance that may have already been developed, such as the 1989 Basel Convention, which seeks to protect people and the planet from the adverse effects of hazardous wastes.

Earlier this year, delegates negotiating a revision to technical guidelines for the Basel Convention did not accept language endorsing chemical recycling as a tool for managing plastic waste, at least for now.

“What we saw is certain petrochemical interests, that is countries with significant petro and oil interests, promoting chemical recycling,” said Lee Bell, International Pollutants Elimination Network science policy advisor. Bell is the lead author of a new report from IPEN and Beyond Plastics on chemical recycling in the United States, “Chemical Recycling: A Dangerous Deception.”

“We also saw a really significant number of other countries, particularly in the global south (and) developing countries reject the idea of adopting this technology,” Bell said. “Because their concern is that once there’s a foothold for this type of technology, they will find themselves the recipient of the processing facilities, the hazardous waste and the emissions, and they don’t want it,” he said.

Still, delegates left chemical recycling language in the Basel Convention’s technical guidance enclosed in brackets, meaning those paragraphs have no authority now but the debate over them will likely resurface in subsequent meetings.

Read the full story from Inside Climate News.