The UN meeting, known as UNEA 5.2, came to a close on Wednesday in Nairobi after more than a week of negotiations between UN member states on topics including nature-based climate solutions, sustainable food systems, green jobs, poverty eradication and preventing pollution.

Negotiations have been tasked with agreeing to the broad terms of a new global treaty to slow – and ultimately end – plastic pollution globally. The treaty covers both terrestrial and marine habitats and applies to plastic pollution of all sizes and all sources. Click here to read up on all the key inclusions of the treaty.

Ultimately, attendees from 175 nations agreed on a text which covers the full lifecycle of plastic, from production to waste management. It also covers plastics of all types and sizes, from large pieces of abandoned fishing gear, to nurdles and microplastics.

The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) director Inger Anderson has stated that the final treaty could be the most important multilateral pact for the environment, globally, since the Paris Agreement was ratified in 2015, committing the world to work towards temperature pathways of 2C and – if possible – 1.5C.

Here, edie rounds up the key commentary and thoughts from some of the leading organisations in the circular economy space.

Espen Barth Eide, UNEA-5 President and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment

“Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN Environment Assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best. Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution, we are officially on track for a cure.”

Lord Zac Goldsmith, UK Government Minister for International Environment 

“This agreement by governments at UNEA is truly historic, and I’m so proud that the UK co-sponsored the proposals and helped get them over the line.

“In the space of just one human lifetime, we have caused unimaginable damage to the global environment, choking every single part of the global ocean with plastic pollution. And although there is much to be done now to turn it into an ambitious and far-reaching treaty, we can now begin to close this ugly chapter. I am so grateful to UK negotiators for their fantastic work securing an agreement this week.”

Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder and chair of trustees, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

“This is a key moment in the effort to eliminate plastic waste and pollution on a global scale. The mandate agreed by UN member states opens the door to a legally binding treaty that deals with the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms.

“Critically, this includes measures considering the entire lifecycle of plastics, from its production, to product design, to waste management, enabling opportunities to design out waste before it is created as part of a thriving circular economy.”

Sian Sutherland, co-founder, A Plastic Planet 

“Last year A Plastic Planet called for a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution, and the world’s leaders have listened. We applaud the UNEA for seeing through the fossil fuel lobbying, acknowledging that we must consider the impact of plastic through its entire lifecycle, its impact on health, and crucially, making this treaty legally binding. These three points are fundamentally key to the treaty being effective.

“This is a huge opportunity for governments around the world to turn the tide on plastic and show industry that simply pumping out plastic with no responsibility for the devastation it causes is no longer acceptable. Plastic is not a pollution problem or even a waste problem. It is a design problem, a production problem and this is where industry has a great opportunity to be a part of the solution now. A Plastic Planet urges every stakeholder to seize it with both hands, build national action plans and enact a treaty that will measurably loosen fossil fuel plastic’s grip on our planet.”

Richard Slater, chief R&D officer, Unilever

“This is a landmark decision by UN member states. A legally binding treaty that addresses the full life cycle of plastic will make a dramatic difference in the fight against plastic pollution. Tackling plastic pollution is not only the right thing to do; it’s a catalyst for innovation and reflects what our consumers want – less plastic waste. With an ambition to conclude negotiations by the end of 2024, the hard work starts now to put in a place a robust plan to end plastic pollution.”

Wouter van Tol, Head of Sustainability, DS Smith

“The plastic waste crisis is one of the key environmental issues of our time, so it’s positive to see that governments across the world have endorsed this agreement to tackle plastic pollution collectively. However, implementing an agreement of this size can take time and businesses and governments have a responsibility to scale up their actions now.

“They can start by replacing problem plastics with widely recycled alternatives today as the technology already exists. At DS Smith, we have already helped remove 170 million pieces of problem plastic from supermarkets and online retailers globally and replaced it with paper-based solutions since the launch of our Now and Next Sustainability strategy in 2020. This is the first step on our journey to replace more than one billion pieces of problem plastic with fully recyclable, fibre-based packaging solutions by 2025.”

Allison Lim, VP of corporate and public affairs, The Alliance to End Plastic waste

“From our perspective, the urgency of action is this: Some three billion people across the globe still do not have access to adequate waste management services. Plastic waste leakage will continue unless we find commercially viable solutions to develop this infrastructure to allow better collection, sorting, processing and recycling of plastic waste.

“Therefore, we welcome the proposed draft resolution on a framework for addressing plastic product pollution and look forward to an inclusive approach that takes into consideration local and national needs and capacities and promotes cooperation among local communities, the informal sector, municipalities, civil society and the private sector.

“Our focus for the agreement is on its successful implementation. The Alliance’s mission is to drive collective action across different stakeholder groups to address the plastic waste challenge, with an initial focus on improving collection, sorting, processing, and recycling. Working with our members, partners, and governments, we have accelerated this mission through voluntary action and are working to develop a circular economy for plastics. We stand ready to contribute to the development of the instrument, based on our collective experience and expertise.”

Raffi Schier, co-founder, Bantam Materials 

“This treaty has the potential to change plastics industry forever. We have known for a long time that a truly circular economy on plastic is possible today. There is nothing to stop packaging from being made from high-quality recycled content in most instances. All that’s currently missing is the demand, which this treaty can help to solve. We now must make sure that the supply of recycled content is of a good quality and uphold standards around labour and other environmental impacts.

“Responsible businesses must not wait for treaties like this to come into force. Taking action now is vital.”

Matt Mace and Sarah George

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