3 May 2023
Webinar Addresses Hazardous Chemicals and Microplastics Ahead of INC-2
Photo by Bas Emmen
story highlights

Speakers highlighted that the failure of industry to disclose information remains a challenge particularly for developing countries.

More than 10,000 chemicals are used in plastics, of which 25% are potentially dangerous, participants stressed.

Panelists called for a circular economy for plastics, and the environmentally sound management and recycling of plastic waste.

The High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution convened a webinar that addressed eliminating and restricting hazardous chemicals and intentionally added microplastics in plastic products. It provided the opportunity for a range of stakeholders to discuss possible options and potential provisions for the future plastics treaty ahead of the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, which will convene from 29 May to 2 June 2023.

The 3 April webinar, organized by Uruguay, in collaboration with Norway, Rwanda, and the Co-Chairs of the Coalition, was moderated by David Toovey, Communications Advisor, Ministry of Environment, Rwanda. He said the session would address, among others, what to do with plastic that cannot immediately be eliminated or prohibited, what provisions should be adopted to reduce and eliminate microplastics, and treaty obligations to reduce production and consumption of plastics and promote a circular economy.

Discussing options for elements, obligations, and provisions to include in the treaty text, Valentina Sierra, Uruguay, emphasized the need for, inter alia, a circular economy for plastics, and the environmentally sound management and recycling of plastic waste. She said more than 10,000 chemicals are used in plastics, of which 25% are potentially dangerous and linked to, for example, cancer and diabetes.

Representing the scientific community, Marina Fernandez, Ph.D. Researcher, Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental, Argentina, said some endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in plastics and microplastics, including those used in baby bottles and food containers, as well as flame retardants. She lamented they are not well regulated and recommended banning such chemicals in groups, not individually. She stressed the importance of communication between the scientific community and regulatory agencies and said the scientific community could help build knowledge in developing countries. 

Vito Buonsante, Policy Advisor, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), discussed microplastics intentionally added in cosmetic products, such as skin exfoliators, and in cleaning products, and their use in agriculture. He said microplastics are only the “tip of the iceberg,” as other plastics also break down into little pieces, and hoped the new treaty would address this issue. Noting that plastic production is increasing and may double in the next 20 years, he said toxic chemicals contained in plastics are poison for the circular economy. Buonsante urged adopting more courageous and precautionary approaches.

Gabriela Medina, Director, Basel Convention Coordinating Centre and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), emphasized the need for safe replacement solutions. Noting risk assessments must be undertaken before replacements are used, she said developing countries still lack the capacity to carry out such assessments. She highlighted the EU’s establishment of requirements for additives and quality assurance of recycled material.

Ayub Macharia, Director, Environmental Education and Awareness Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry, Kenya, said the failure of industry to disclose information remains a challenge particularly for developing countries. He said some plastics are not labeled, knowledge is needed with respect to different kinds of plastics, and the new treaty should prioritize access to information, disclosure, and transparency.

Gaspar Guevara, Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, emphasized the importance of regulations, global standards, “Cradle to Cradle certification,” increased infrastructure in the Global South to help achieve global goals, and addressing the informal sector, including waste pickers, through a holistic approach. Guevara said the informal sector is a key stakeholder whose needs must be considered in the future plastics treaty. He said with respect to businesses using confidentiality as a reason to not release information, a regulatory framework will need to be in place before information can be released.

On safeguards to ensure replacement chemicals are not as dangerous as those being restricted and eliminated, panelists emphasized the need to: group similar chemicals together so replacements do not have the same harmful effects; undertake risk assessments before putting chemicals on the market; ensure plastics containing harmful chemicals are not exported; invest more in developing alternatives; adopt extended producer responsibility (EPR); and provide incentives to deal with problematic plastics.

In conclusion, panelists shared views on what ambition would look like in the new treaty, including, among others: 

  • at the end of the negotiations, having a list of priority groups of chemicals to target for substitution; 
  • changing consumption patterns; 
  • exchanging information globally in a traceable and transparent manner; 
  • transitioning to a circular economy that is fair for all stakeholders; 
  • control measures supported by strong means of implementation to ensure compliance with obligations; 
  • annexes that can be easily updated as findings and research evolve; and 
  • developing criteria for listing.  

The webinar is one in a series of webinars being held by the High Ambition Coalition in advance of INC-2. With more than 60 members, the Coalition aims to end plastic pollution by 2040. [High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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