Business case for a UN treaty on plastic pollution

February 4, 2022 - Reading Time: 2 minutes - By Abigael Ndanu

For the first time in history, more than 70 leading corporations and financial institutions have called for a legally binding UN treaty on plastic pollution. The aim of this move is to have a robust policy on plastic pollution and reduction in virgin plastic production and use.

A report published by the Boston Consulting Group in collaboration with the Elle MacArthur Foundation and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) indicates that more than 11 million metric tons of plastic are flowing into the ocean each year and there is no sign that leakage rates are slowing. While acknowledging the positive role that plastic material has played in reducing packaging and storage costs, reducing food waste to protecting human health during the Covid-19 Pandemic, the pervasive threat to the environment cannot be overstated.

Despite the rapidly growing scale of the environmental challenge, and the transboundary nature of its impact on the ocean, plastic pollution lacks a dedicated international legal framework, which is how many other comparable international environmental issues are governed.

Given the urgency and scale of the challenge, and the need to amplify current efforts, a new and more ambitious approach is required. A UN treaty on plastic pollution, whereby governments commit to a coordinated set of actions and policies, could catalyze a comprehensive global effort to address the problem at scale, and help put the world on a path toward a circular economy for plastics. It would establish the international framework for both governments and companies to move decisively in the right direction. The objective of such a treaty should be to eliminate plastic leakage into the ocean by a specific date. Critical elements of the treaty should include:

1. Harmonized regulatory standards and common definitions across markets

2. Clear national targets and action plans that aggregate to deliver on the treaty’s overarching objective

3. Common reporting metrics and methodologies across the plastic value chain

4. Coordinated investment approaches to support infrastructure development in key markets and innovation

A UN treaty on plastic pollution would benefit businesses as well as the environment. It can create a level playing field across the plastic value chain, accelerating industry transformation and existing voluntary initiatives. Specifically, a UN treaty would:

  1. Help reduce operational complexity and compliance risk across markets
  2. Enable businesses to plan investments while managing the costs of compliance scanning
  3. Simplify reporting across the plastic value chain, bringing greater transparency to more effectively measure progress and manage reputational risk
  4. Coordinate actions across the plastic value chain, improving the prospects for meeting ambitious corporate commitments

Source: UN Treaty Plastic Poll Report 

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