Global Plastics Treaty and How Companies Should Participate
The global plastic pollution crisis will be solved by the partnering of governments, NGOs, philanthropy, and the private sector, simultaneously implementing various solutions at scale. Success will require a combination of many activities, all performed concurrently: environmental plastic remediation, reduction in use, product redesigns, refill and reuse programs, new waste management infrastructure, standardized corporate plastic accounting, scaling of recycling capacity, international and local policy development, and consumer behavior changes.
Negotiations for the global plastics pollution treaty are underway to address the plastic crisis comprehensively. The treaty goals are inclusive, including production levels for chemical additives, circular product engineering, and environmental justice. The work streams first include the development of objectives, scope, obligations, and control measures, followed by establishing means of implementation, financing, institutional arrangements, assessment of progress, and stakeholder engagement.
The UN Global Plastics Treaty is a significant opportunity to advance multiple efforts to create a circular plastic economy. Achieving such a transformation will require ingenuity, commitment, and much funding. For all of the needed financial resources, there will be gaps in what will be provided by governments and philanthropy. What is needed for an effective treaty is a mechanism to drive private sector capital to exponentially innovative plastic sustainability operations.
The Role of Plastic Credits to Achieve Treaty Objectives
Around the planet, plastic credits have started financing environmental plastic pollution removal, infrastructure development, plastic repurposing, and recycling capability in under-resourced locations. Plastic credits are generated from projects certified by a global, independent, transparent standard and registry. Certification requires 3rd party verification auditing, public commenting, and documented stakeholder engagement with workers, communities, local governments, and the environment. Today these standards include the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard and the Ocean Bound Plastic Certification. When a plastic credit is issued, it represents one ton of plastic pollution removed from the environment or that is recycled to displace new fossil fuel production.
“Humanity produces around 460 million tonnes of plastic a year, a figure that – without urgent action – will triple by 2060. Globally, 46% of plastic waste is landfilled, 22% is mismanaged and becomes litter, 17% is incinerated, and 15% is collected for recycling, with less than 9% actually recycled after losses.”
– UN Environment Programme
Removing shoreline plastic pollution at a plastic credit project in Malaysia
Companies can use plastic credits as a structured, reportable, external investment in plastic sustainability. The outcomes of underlying projects and associated claims from plastic credit transactions can contribute to corporate ESG and CSR goals. Specifically, supporting the use of plastic credits in the treaty language would provide direction for the private sector to make proactive, voluntary contributions to a global circular economy. The treaty’s inclusion of plastic credits will provide companies with a certified instrument to support ocean ecosystem restoration and the communities that rely on it.
The required changes to create a systemic, circular economy will take time. In the intermediate term and as a transition tool, plastic credits provide a financial model to remediate and prevent plastic pollution leakage in the environment while providing employment, water quality, health, and biodiversity benefits. By financing new waste management infrastructure for underfunded local governments, plastic waste is recovered further upstream, retaining more usability for repurposing or recycling. By creating value from waste, it can become a community resource.
Local Communities Flourish with Plastic Removal Projects
In Cote d’Ivoire, plastic credits are helping The WaY Project to recover ocean bound plastic and repurpose it into modular construction bricks for use in a UNICEF school building program. The waterways in the Abidjan area emit around 4,000,000 kilograms of plastic into the Atlantic Ocean annually. The WaY Project is the creation of the Colombian social enterprise Conceptos Plasticos. To complement the environmental and educational impacts, The WaY Project currently employs 97% female workers, providing job training, labor rights advocacy, and healthcare benefits.
A newly opened plastic collection center in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, was constructed with repurposed plastic bricks
For a comprehensive Global Plastics Treaty, the plastic credit mechanism is one arrow in a big quiver of solutions that needs implementation at scale. Multiple objectives of the treaty are tackled by crediting projects. Here is a look:
Precautionary Principle asserts that the treaty must have an overarching objective to protect human health and the environment from the adverse impacts of plastic pollution.
TONTOTON has recovered 2595 tons of no and low-value legacy plastic through the plastic credit mechanism in Cambodia and Vietnam. Their results have only been made possible through the credit funding model, as no other organization has the financial incentive to remove these plastics from the environment. TONTOTON has brought new waste receptacles, transport vehicles, and collection and sorting facilities to communities severely impacted by plastic pollution. This work has collaborated with the Cambodia Ministry of Environment and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). They’ve brought municipal services to multiple coastal communities without asking governments for money.
A message on Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
Building a Plastic Clean Future Together
Reaching a final Global Plastic Treaty in 2024 will be a complex process. Some countries and industries negotiate for a global and legally binding agreement, while others work towards national voluntary commitments. There is much progress that can be accomplished in the middle. Regardless of the final agreement, the private sector can fulfill a significant and needed role. Companies using the plastic credit mechanism can help achieve specific objectives irrespective of wherever the 175 countries eventually land. The end treaty will be the most effective framework for addressing the plastic crisis.
Below is how the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Global Biodiversity Framework listed biodiversity credits in Article 19 from COP15 in December 2022. This specific listing has already resulted in new collaborations and efforts to put resources into biodiversity conservation projects. A similar effort for plastic pollution would bring new private sector interest for treaty goals.
(d) Stimulating innovative schemes such as payment for ecosystem services, green bonds, biodiversity offsets and credits, benefit-sharing mechanisms, with environmental and social safeguards
In March 2023, the INC released an advance of potential options for elements in the treaty. Included in the list, is implementing credits as a funding mechanism to help prevent plastic pollution. The initial example shown below, is the use of carbon credits from plastic recycling operations to be a revenue stream to help expand global recycling capacity. Currently, there is a new methodology being brought to market that certifies a carbon credit from the GHG benefit of recycling over virgin plastic production. The use of plastic credits in the treaty would have a similar objective.
Section II, 24. E. (iv) – Credit schemes: Use credit schemes to finance initiatives that reduce plastic waste. The credits would be generated by projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as recycling, and sold to companies and governments to offset their carbon footprint.
Once a treaty is ratified, it will be a long journey to redesign, fund, and implement new circular plastic systems worldwide. Government and philanthropic resources are needed, but more stakeholders must also be involved. Public-private partnerships can jump start bridge programs on the ground. Using successful plastic credit project models, new and innovative blended finance programs could begin. With companies supporting location-specific plastic sustainability operations, treaty objectives can be jumpstarted while government and development sectors work on long term systemic measures. With approximately 8 million tons of plastic pollution entering the ocean annually, we can’t afford to lose any amount of time to address this crisis.
The second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) will convene in Paris beginning on May 29th to resume developing a global framework instrument to solve plastic pollution, including for the marine environment. The INC-3 will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, towards the end of 2023, on the way to a final treaty in 2024.
To create the most effective treaty, delegates from around the world should support the inclusion of plastic credits as a financing mechanism. There is a pre-INC-2 proposal on plastic credits contributing to treaty goals submitted by Verra, who administers the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard. Stakeholders can request their individual country delegates to support implementing credits into negotiations for a global agreement. Finally, stakeholders can include credits in their INC-3 submission, citing how new private sector funding could benefit their country’s path to sustainability and ecosystem restoration.
Chris leads ClimeCo’s Plastics Program, which partners with projects around the world to recover ocean bound plastic and provide a productive next life solution. The program is developing plastic credits to fund ecosystem restoration, create new waste mgt. infrastructure, and scale recycle capacity. Supporting companies are implementing project environmental and social impacts into ESG, CSR, and sustainability programs.
Chris Parker, Director, Plastics Program