Eliminating and restricting problematic single-use plastic (SUP) products and packaging was the focus of a seminar convened by Australia, in collaboration with Norway and Rwanda, as the Co-Chairs of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution (HAC).
The 26 April webinar took place in advance of the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, which will meet from 29 May to 2 June 2023 in Paris, France.
The event was moderated by Cameron Colebatch, Director, International Plastics Policy Section, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Australia. Colebatch explained that problematic single-use plastics disproportionately contribute to plastic pollution, noting the webinar’s focus on specific treaty provisions needed to eliminate and restrict their production and use. Citing the need for a more circular economy, he stressed eliminating plastics we do not need and recycling those we do need.
Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia, pointed to the effectiveness of incentives and bans, noting that even with a small incentive, people return bottles and stop using plastic bags. She said single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, balloons, and bottle caps, have harmful effects on wildlife, communities, and tourism, as city centers, beaches, and surrounding areas are impacted.
Lizzie Fuller, Principal, Global Plastics Treaty, Minderoo Foundation, presented on projected increases of single-use plastics under a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, and ways the future treaty can respond. She said under the current trajectory, plastic consumption and plastic waste are expected to almost triple by 2060, with packaging accounting for a large proportion of the increase. Highlighting the Minderoo’s Plastic Waste Makers Index 2023, she said more single-use plastic waste exists today than ever before, and an additional six million metric tonnes were generated in 2021 compared to 2019, mainly made up of virgin fossil fuel feedstock. She said growth is driven by demand for flexible packaging, which has lower collection and higher leakage rates. She also mentioned significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with single-use plastic production, and that cradle-to-grave emissions from single-use plastics alone are equivalent to the UK’s overall emissions.
Alfred Ralifo, Policy Officer, WWF Pacific, said the treaty’s core obligations should include measures that will help drive reuse and repair at scale, and avoid regrettable substitutes. He highlighted the helpful role traditional knowledge could play, citing, for example, use of traditional baskets made with natural materials. He said such efforts could drive local economies and grassroots communities while replacing harmful and regrettable alternatives.
Andrea Volentras, Project Manager, Pacific Ocean Litter Project, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), using Palau as an example, said while clean-ups are numerous and constant, more rubbish washes ashore a few months later. He emphasized that producers and those causing the pollution from the estuaries and rivers that threaten the Pacific Islands must take serious action. He noted every Pacific Island has taken some steps since 2010, including regulating single-use plastic products through bans, phaseouts, and restrictions, and implementing economic instruments, such as container deposit schemes and levies. However, he cited issues related to institutional capacity, limited staff, garbage collection, and leakage at the border, among others, stressing that a global instrument would reinforce local efforts and address external inflows of plastic pollution.
Halatoa Fua, Director, National Environment Service, Cook Islands, discussed experiences in his country to phase out single-use plastics, citing “waste colonialism” as a problem and emphasizing that discussions on trade must be elevated to the global stage. He said means of implementation, including finance and technology transfer, must be a part of the global treaty, to complement national efforts.
During the question-and-answer session, discussion revolved around:
- the need for the treaty to address transboundary problems and level the playing field;
- avoiding regrettable substitutes and incentivizing better alternatives;
- reducing the use and consumption of single-use plastics by 25-40% to get back to 2010 levels;
- reduction targets for certain categories, in addition to elimination measures; and
- ensuring economic benefits are kept in local communities.
In response to a question about cigarette butts, Hardesty noted they are the most littered item in the world, cigarette filters are made of plastic, and the organization No More Butts is addressing this issue. She also raised the issue of pollution from disposable diapers, but wondered if a ban was feasible, noting that using cloth diapers is more time consuming and requires more water use. Panelists also discussed difficulties with defining the term single-use plastics, but said countries must agree on a definition in the new treaty.
The event was part of a series of webinars the HAC is convening in advance of INC-2. [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Webinar on Eliminating and Restricting Hazardous Chemicals and Intentionally Added Microplastics in Plastic Products] [High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution]