Plastic pollution is all pervasive. It is complex, dynamic and transcends boundaries. Addressing issues of plastic pollution, in a singular lens of either waste management, marine litter or just single use plastics further compounds the problem of effectively finding solutions. Interventions to address plastic pollution, while growing in numbers, lack convergence; and voluntary actions, lack ability to scale, and holistically deal with the issues that affect human health, biodiversity, environment and climate change.
Beat Plastic Pollution
In 2018, India announced an ambitious plan to Beat Plastic Pollution, by eliminating all single use plastics in the country by 2022. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, called for a global movement to beat plastic pollution. He stated, “It is the duty of each one of us, to ensure that the quest for material prosperity does not compromise our environment. The choices that we make today, will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy. But through awareness, technology, and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices. Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live.”
In line, with the call for a global partnership, in 2019, at the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), India sponsored a draft resolution, titled “Phasing Out Single-use Plastics”. The Open Ended Committee for Permanent Representatives (OECPR), took up the discussion of the draft solutions, as it was decided that this could not be integrated into the other resolutions on integrated waste management or marine litter. The final resolution adopted was a watered down version of what India originally proposed. The issues on terminologies such as ‘phase out’, ‘reduce’, ‘address’, single use plastics within the time frame of 2025 was conscientious, with many countries opposing them. There was also a disagreement on what scientific and technological cooperation The other discussions centred around, the need to include plastic additives, the approach with working with industries, and consumers, target actions that include design and production phases required to be undertaken. The discussions at Committee of Whole (COG), continued and reached an impasse, and needed informal consultations, and with the final text proposed, changed the title of the resolution, ‘Addressing single-use plastic products pollution’, and called upon Member States to develop and implement national / regional actions and pushed the deadline with a commitment to reduce by 2030. This new document was then adopted at the plenary on 15th March 2019.
India’s Stand at International Forums/ Dialogues
UNEP launched the ‘Clean Seas’ programme in February 2017 to fight marine plastic litter with the help of governments, civil society and citizens. In 2018, India, which ( the 7th longest coastline in Asia, of 7500 kms joined the programme. As part of this, the government announced that the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences will assess the extent and source of marine litter along India’s coastline and National Marine Litter Policy will be framed along with the launch of a national and regional marine litter action campaign.
India is also the founding member of the new Group of Friends to Combat Plastic Pollution launched by Antigua and Barbuda, Norway and the Maldives on World Ocean Day, 8 June 2020. The main objective for the group is to support the ongoing work at UNEA and strengthen political momentum for an effective, coordinated action and solutions to address plastic pollution. The group will also collectively advocate to raise awareness on gaps in the global legal and policy framework, support the process for a global response option including a new agreement, and engage with other stakeholders and support the implementation of the UN SDG by 2030 in particular SDG 14 and 12.
India’s New Resolution at UNEA 5.2
In the run up to UNEA 5.2, India has proposed a new resolution titled ‘Framework for addressing plastic product pollution including single-use plastic product pollution’. The resolution builds on from the previous resolution sponsored by India to address single use plastics pollution in 2019, and while acknowledging that one of the main sources of plastic pollution and marine litter originates from land-based sources, it raises an urgent concern on the increase in the use of single-use plastic products.
Key Elements in the proposed resolution
- Encourages multi stakeholder action: States the need for the government to engage holistically with all stakeholders: plastics producers, retailers, the consumer goods industry, importers, packaging firms, plastic waste processors and recyclers
- Recognises the need to adopt principles of waste hierarchy of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
- International Collaboration: Recognises the need for collaboration and and international cooperation and collaboration, and the importance of financing and technology mechanisms and set up a legal and policy forum review of regulations, bring coherence in international, national and regional regulations, devise standard protocols and procedures for market based mechanisms such as EPR
- Extended Producers Responsibility: Calls upon corporations to take responsibility and encourages member states to implement Extended Producers Responsibility to manage plastic waste and promote sustainable packaging design based on a four pronged strategy of promoting reuse, (ii) amenable for recycling, (iii) use of recycled plastic content and (iv) reduced material use
- National Action Plans & Policies: Invites member states to prepare national or regional actions plans to reduce use of single- use plastic products, and develop policies and frameworks for promoting recycling of plastic waste including through use of recycled plastic in plastic packaging as per domestic laws, rules and regulations
- Voluntary Data Disclosure & Monitoring:Invites member states to provide statistical information, annually, on a voluntary basis, with respect to plastic waste generated and plastic waste processed in an environmentally safe manner to United Nations Environment Programme, in form of a report, in ahead of United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) 6 and subsequent sessions thereafter
The Global Plastic Treaty Negotiations
As it stands at UNEA 5.2, presently, India’s resolution is being put in the cluster with two other resolutions – the first one sponsored by Rwanda and Peru in September 2021, that calls for internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution and the second one by Japan that calls for an international legally binding instrument on marine plastic pollution.
A comparison of all the three resolutions, reveal some commonality, but essentially have a lot of divergence in the drafts.
Some of the common features
- All three stress the need for urgent action to address the issue of plastic pollution, while India specifically states single use, Japan focuses on marine plastic
- All the three resolutions, emphasis the need for promoting circular economy, and resource efficiency, with India emphasising on principles of reduce reuse, recycle; the RP Resolution states the need for materials to be designed so that they can be reused, remanufactured or recycled
- All three , recognise the importance of devising a mechanism for financing and technology
- All three urge for a multistakeholder approach in addressing the plastic pollution problem.
Need for an ambitious forward looking vision for a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution
India’s standalone current proposed resolution is neither ambitious nor aggressive, and pales in comparison with the Rwanda Peru Resolution. By singularly focussing on the problem of single use plastics, it limits its scope to comprehensively address the plastic pollution problem holistically. India’s resolution largely builds on from its ongoing national policies on the Plastic Waste Management Amended Rules2021 and 2022, the Extended Producers Responsibility Regulations and its international commitments to phase out problematic single use plastics
The voluntary focus in the resolution is equally problematic, as it lacks serious efforts to scale, and pursue the problem of pollution. India needs to demand for a globally binding plastic treaty that addresses pollution from marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments, given the transboundary nature of the issue. Both the other resolutions explicitly recognise this issue.
Further, in line with the previous resolution UNEP/EA.4/R.9 on “Addressing Single-use plastic products pollution”, sponsored by India, on full life cycle environmental impact of plastic products, the current draft must also call for the same on plastic as a whole with interventions on production (upstream), product design( midstream) and waste management (downstream). In response to the previous resolution, UNEP has already released a report titled ‘Addressing Single-use plastic products pollution, using a life cycle approach.
A significant direction that India has taken at the national level is recognising informal waste workers and has mandated their inclusion in the waste management systems. This needs to be amplified at the global level and India must strongly advocate for inclusion of the informal recycling waste workers in the current framework and the global treaty dialogues.
Resolution adopted by the United Nations Environment Assembly on 15 March 20194/9. Addressing single-use plastic products pollution
Framework for addressing plastic product pollution including single-use plastic product pollution 2021, sponsored by India
Group of Friends to Combat Marine Plastic Pollution
Government is monitoring the quantity of plastic waste flowing into the sea;http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=31886&lsno=17
Prohibition on Sale of Single-use plastics http://18.104.22.168/loksabhaquestions/annex/176/AU697.pdf
Geneva Environment Network: UNEA-5.2 High Level Dialogue on a Global Instrument on Plastic Pollution | Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues
International Cooperation on Plastics
~ Pinky Chandran
This article is written for Hasiru Dala’s Chasing Arrow Series. Opinions are my own