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Circular plastics at the heart of new UN treaty?

The environmental value of chemical recycling has become a ‘hot topic’ at the United Nations Basel Convention recently, according to trade specialist Alev Somer. Speaking at the Bureau of International Recycling’s (BIR) gathering in Amsterdam, she ensured delegates that the matter will be further discussed ‘once more data emerges’.

‘Lobbying with fellow industry players and politicians is key to advance plastics recycling and ensure our interests are well-represented – both at European level and on the international stage,’ said Somer, who was appointed as the organisation’s first trade & environmental deputy director last year. ‘I take that role very seriously.’

Somer went on to state that she is attending the UN’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) session in Paris this week to discuss plastics in the broadest sense of the word; ranging from the lifecycle of plastic products, plastic pollution hotspots, collection initiatives, recycling infrastructure and extended producer responsibility.

Ultimately, the target is to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. This supports the BIR’s and UN’s joint efforts to create a Global Plastics Treaty, scheduled to be signed in 2025, as well as a Plastic Partnership on Waste. ‘I will gladly take any comments and industry feedback with me,’ Somer stated.  

French president Emmanuel Macron also attended the INC Paris assembly – as keynote speaker. He urged that eco-design and recyclability have to be ‘at the heart of the new treaty’, with all new plastics put on the market needing to be 100% recyclable.

Somer further pointed out that the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has issued a report titled “Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060’. It forecasts annual plastics use worldwide will grow from 460 million tonnes in 2019 to more than 1.2 billion tonnes by 2060. Also, the plastics lifecycle is estimated to be only about 8% circular.

Primary plastics will continue to dominate the feedstock in the near future. Recycled plastics are projected to grow more quickly than primary plastics, however, they are predicted to only make up 12% of all plastics in 2060. Somer concludes that plastic scrap generation is on course to ‘outpace’ current levels of planned recycling infrastructure investment.

‘We need solid legally binding and voluntary measures to maximise the potential of plastics recycling,’ she argued. ‘For those industries who want to be green, we need to make it easier and more attractive.’

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