WASHINGTON -- Countries have begun to discuss a future global plastics treaty which would cut pollution, some hope entirely by 2040, at U.N. talks in Uruguay this week, with many states calling for curbs on plastic production as a way to reach that goal.
United Nations members agreed in March on a resolution to create the world's first treaty to deal with the scourge of plastic waste which extends from ocean trenches to mountaintops, although there is divergence on how to proceed.
According to the U.N. Environment Programme, the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute, threatening biodiversity and damaging marine ecosystems, while greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are expected to reach 6.5 gigatons by 2050.
Delegates from governments, civil society and industry are meeting in beach town Punta del Este for the first of five Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) talks that will run to the close of 2024, and prepare the future treaty.
"At INC-1, we can lay the groundwork needed to implement a life-cycle approach to plastic pollution, which would significantly contribute to ending the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste," said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the INC Secretariat on Plastic Pollution.
A life-cycle approach considers the impact of all the stages of a product's life, such as raw material extraction, production, distribution and disposal, and looks at how governments, consumers and businesses can play a part.
Several country delegations on Monday voiced support for a treaty cracking down on plastic production, an approach opposed by the plastics and petrochemical industries.
The EU, members of the so-called High Ambition Coalition that includes Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Georgia, the UK and others, said they want to see the treaty include binding global obligations for the entire life cycle of plastics - including production - aiming to end plastic pollution by 2040.
Japan also revealed at a Reuters event that a potential treaty should consider placing curbs on problematic plastics like microplastics and those made with "hazardous additives" that are hard to recycle.
The US also called for a treaty that ends plastic pollution by 2040 but through a structure that resembles the Paris climate agreement, based on voluntary national action plans and which does not specifically address plastic production.
Some NGOs that are closely observing the talks expressed concern about the Paris agreement-style approach.
"We are three decades into UN climate talks and seven years into the Paris agreement, which has clearly failed to deliver. That model is one we should be weary of," said Carroll Moffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.