Regional View of INC-3: Growing from What We Know

Saturday 18 November 2023

The growing global awareness of plastic pollution is a signal for optimism. In every reach of the planet, the overproduction and use of plastic has left the world no other choice than to face the challenge head on. This is especially true in the Mediterranean region where there is an average of 730 tonnes of plastic waste every day. Every day! That is equivalent to the weight of over 70 whales deposited daily into rivers and seas. MedWaves joined delegates from around the world in Nairobi, Kenya from 13-19 November 2023 for the 3rd Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3), the process to develop an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution. While much work lies ahead, a future is forming to address the lifecycle of plastics.

Grow from What We Know

Everything begins with a first step. A single decision made in 2022 set off a process that will forever change our world – a decision that is putting in place standards and regulations for a safer and healthier place for nature and people. This decision was the UNEA-5.2 adopted resolution 5/14 to “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument.” For this decision, the first step in the process was the establishment and subsequent meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC). 

A successful international legally-binding treaty takes time to develop. Slated to meet over five sessions, the third INC continues to work toward an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution. Just as it is impossible to arrive on the first day of school prepared to take a final exam, delegates and observers have to begin in a place that can be somewhat uncomfortable – a place of not yet knowing the exact details for what will result in the world’s first-ever treaty for plastic pollution. 

INC-3 flagged an important step in this process. While still in an infancy stage of development, parties and observers balanced patience with collecting the range of views, needs and perspectives with the foresight to anticipate how to appropriately serve the world now and into the future. INC-3 offered stakeholders the first chance to review the Zero Draft (UNEP/PP/INC.3/4). A zero draft is a first attempt to assemble the important elements of what will eventually become the ILBI. The draft contains the foundation for the instruments, such as guiding principles, important definitions and scope, as well as specific focus on product design, composition and performance, waste management, and a just transition, among others. The collection and compilation of delegate and observer views and perspectives are the work exercised by negotiations at this stage. 

Tallash Kantai, plastics consultant, has been present for each of the INCs and reflected on the current stage of compiling statements on the Zero Draft: “This process is completely overwhelming, but completely necessary.” She underscored the value to ensure that all stakeholders should feel and see their voices represented in the end result of the treaty, noting “There is no easy way to do this. While the revision may be four times the size of what we walked in with, it does truly reflect the voices of all.”

A Regional View

The Mediterranean is a semi-closed basin, and thus becomes a collection point for the natural flows of the rivers that deposit a large amount of waste from inland areas. A combination of long coastline and maritime traffic result in the region being one the most affected by marine litter in the world (UNEP/WAP, 2015). Plastic is the most prolific marine litter in the region: it represents up to 95-100% of all floating litter and more than 50% of litter deposited on the seabed.

MedWaves, the UNEP/MAP Regional Activity Center for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) (former SCP/RAC), housed at the Waste Agency of Catalonia, attended INC-3 to offer support and share expertise in addressing plastic pollution and marine debris. Located in a hotspot for plastic pollution, MedWaves has become a leader in innovative solutions. 

MedWaves has convened several programmes throughout the region to take important action to curb use and waste of plastic. MedWaves has been integral in developing the Regional Plan for the Marine Litter management in the Mediterranean and in supporting a strong policy framework in the region with technical guidelines to help regulate single-use plastics (SUPs). 

MedWaves provides support for the prevention of single-use plastic bags and the implementation of extended producers responsibility (EPR) in a number of countries. Several tools have been produced to support capacity building activities. In addition, capacity building programming supports the use and implementation of these tools, such as Tunisia in addressing SUP bags’.

MedWaves participated in discussions, including in the side events prepared by sectoral organizations, which explored system design options along the product lifecycle, ranging from the production of plastic-containing products over goods manufacturing and retail to end-of-life management and pollution abatement.

“It was amazing, constructive, fantastic and really encouraging to see the Nairobi spirit of collaboration, compromise and commitment which allowed the participants (delegations and observers) to discuss the content of the zero draft document. There is still a lot of work to do!”

(Ignasi Mateo Rodríguez, Green Entrepreneurship & Civil Society Project Manager at MedWaves)

Progress is being made: the world is moving closer to the ILBI on plastic pollution. Ms. Kantai clarified that while “we are moving slowly in the negotiation, we understand what the biggest problems that this new treaty will solve.” This includes SUPs, including the chemicals that are added to SUPs and the non-essential SUPs, and microplastics that are added to cosmetics. Another important component of the treaty will be to address design standards to make products that contain plastic last longer, while simultaneously seeking to decrease manufacturing plastics.

Work Ahead

Facing the global challenge of plastic pollution, while urgent and mandatory, can be overwhelming. Advocates for the health of the environment and people have successfully raised awareness regarding the truth about toxic chemicals and waste, making the invisible, visible. Another element of the challenge is the fact that the science of plastic pollution is still evolving. Ms Kantai pointed to recycling as an example: “While at one time, this was encouraged, it is now understood that recycling products containing toxic chemicals creates additional hazards.”

Despite the immense challenges, Ms Kantai expressed optimism, saying: “There is an awareness growing, absolutely incredible from top down and bottom up.” She concluded by saying that when everyone wants to do their part, the treaty will be easier to implement.  

INCs are important, yet so is what takes place in between meetings. The world is learning how to apply known science and develop capacity at all levels to shift and transition to avoid plastic pollution. While the Secretariat works to get the next draft refined, the world is tasked with continuing to highlight and celebrate solutions and share knowledge.

MedWaves will continue to provide much-needed support to all countries of the Barcelona Convention to implement policy measures and promote new sustainable business models.​​ “Our goal is to facilitate a just transition toward plastic-free solutions through the promotion of green entrepreneurship, while also building a broad community of sustainable businesses across the Mediterranean, as reflected in The Switchers Community.”

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