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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

UNEA enters new era to end plastic pollution, approves new international scientific panel on chemicals

After 10 days of intense negotiations, governments adopted three resolutions relevant to chemicals and plastics under the resumed fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2).

Plastic Pollution
An artwork at the UN Offices in Nairobi depicting plastic pollution

These decisions include:

  • A resolution to start talks later this year to agree on a legally binding instrument to tackle plastic pollution focusing on prevention and promoting sustainable production and consumption of plastics. The resolution covers all types of potential pollution and the whole lifecycle of plastics;
  • A resolution agreeing to start discussions to create a scientific panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention; and,
  • A resolution that renews the Special Programme that provides financial support to developing countries to develop programs contributing to the sound management of chemicals and waste. Additionally, the resolution calls for a new report on the state of the science on endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Plastics

Governments approved a broad mandate to start talks on a plastics treaty. The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) believes that the treaty should help prevent health threats from the widely used hazardous chemicals embedded in plastics, such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals include phthalates, bisphenols, brominated flame retardants, and PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals”.

All of these are chemicals known to cause severe harm to health. When recycled, these chemicals can potentially expose vulnerable populations to health threats.

IPEN says the treaty needs to have legally binding provisions to help reduce the use of plastics products. Based on current forecasts of huge growth in plastic and chemical production and use, slowing down this growth is crucial to defend the health of the planet and of people.

Vito Buonsante, IPEN Policy & Technical Advisor, stated: “We are pleased the Plastics Treaty resolution scope all impacts throughout their lifecycle. The important work now starts, ensuring that the health impacts of plastics, including microplastics and hazardous chemicals, will be covered by the future Treaty.”

Semia Gharbi, IPEN Regional coordinator for North Africa and the Middle East, stated: “Plastics are poisoning the circular economy, and the UNEA decision should now start an honest discussion about the toxic chemicals used to make plastics.”

Dr Leslie Adogame, Executive Director, SRADev Nigeria, an IPEN participating organisation for Nigeria, said: “Plastic ‘Tsunami’ has been of utmost concern and a major environmental challenge in recent years particularly in Nigeria, and I feel strongly that this resolution is for Nigeria just as it is for Africa. The dangers inherent in plastic proliferation infiltrating our country will now be tamed from design, production, throughout the value-chain.”

Science-Policy Panel

Gilbert Kuepouo from the Research and Education Center for Development (CREPD) in Cameroon stated: “While IPEN welcomes the focus on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention, it notes that the lack of decisive action on chemicals and waste in the past has not been because of a lack of robust evidence, but due to the unwillingness to take precautionary action, even when the science is solid.”

Examples include lead in paint and bisphenol A.

Chemicals and Wastes

Governments also recognised that countries should increase action to achieve the sound management of chemicals and waste. In particular, they approved updating the State of the Science of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) report, published in 2012, urging countries to take further action to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with EDCs and other issues of concern.

“EDCs are everywhere, from plastics to pesticides, and this class of hazardous chemicals are linked to cancer, reproductive harm and more. Updating the EDC report should help to move this science to policy action. We are particularly concerned with potential industry interference, who continue to deny the science, noting the recent EU court case on the plastic chemical BPA, where the industry tried to deny the science linking BPA to triggering human hormones and threatening public health. Africa needs global action on EDCs and labeling of EDCs in plastics and pesticides to protect our borders from these chemicals coming in,” said IPEN Co-Chair Dr. Tadesse Amera.

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