Baltic Approaches to Handling Plastic Pollution under a Circular Economy Context

The Global Plastics Treaty Explained

30 April 2024
The Global Plastics Treaty must align with climate and planetary boundaries to effectively combat plastic pollution, presenting a pivotal opportunity for one of the most impactful environmental agreements to date.
Technical details

Plastic is a growing crisis with a devastating impact on the environment, human health, human rights, environmental justice, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, biodiversity, and climate. Global actions to address this crisis are urgently needed. As numerous studies have demonstrated, plastic has been found everywhere, not only in ecosystems and the atmosphere but also in the food we eat, the water we drink, and even inside our bodies. For the Global Plastics Treaty to be effective in reversing the tide of plastic pollution, mechanisms and solutions to address it need to exist within climate and planetary boundaries. This treaty is an opportunity to get it right. It can potentially be one of the most significant environmental agreements in history.


Key messages:

  1. Action to reduce plastic pollution requires comprehensive and coordinated action from all countries.
  2. The Plastics Convention is a logical continuation of previous work to prevent plastic pollution
  3. Negotiations on the convention are difficult, and countries have to be ambitious to get the Treaty delivered.

It’s becoming clear that stopping plastic pollution in oceans and other places needs a specific plan. In March 2022, at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly, a historic resolution 5/14 entitled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument” was adopted, which began the process of negotiating a new global plastics treaty by the end of 2024.

UNEA Resolution 5/14 was a landmark moment in global policymaking. Global treaties are the world’s best hope at regulating transnational environmental problems, as we saw in the successful regulation of ozone-depleting substances by the Montreal Protocol.  Negotiations between UN governments will now focus on interpreting that mandate and developing the treaty. Significant questions about the treaty’s objective, scope, function and form remain.

The aim of the process is to create a global, legally binding agreement on plastic pollution. This plan tries to cover everything about plastic, like how it’s made, designed, and managed after it’s used. The plan works with other plans already in place and is supposed to fill in any important gaps to stop plastic from getting into oceans and to make sure plastic is used and recycled in a way that’s fair and good for the environment. Three sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop the treaty have already been held in 2022 and 2023 with at least 2 more remaining in 2024. The next fourth session (INC-4) is scheduled to take place from 23 to 29 April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada.

During the negotiation process, several areas where activities are needed have already been identified:

Plastic pollution prevention

The core of the global agreement will involve country-level plastic pollution reduction plans. These plans will translate global commitments into specific policies and actions aimed at decreasing plastic pollution.


Primary microplastic pollution comprises small plastic particles that enter the environment via several pathways, including the deterioration of products such as tires and textiles, accidental releases, and deliberate incorporation into items such as cosmetics. Secondary microplastics result from the breakdown of larger plastic debris. Microplastics pose a significant environmental threat as they absorb toxic pollutants and contaminate marine life, impacting human health and biodiversity. Despite some regulations, there’s a lack of global measures to restrict intentionally added microplastics.


Another significant obstacle hindering the advancement of circular-economy goals is the absence of universal criteria and standards for products and recycled materials globally, which undermines secondary markets and the circular economy. Addressing these challenges systematically, the Convention on Plastic Pollution plan to incorporate measures such as labelling, product design, additive limitations, and certification programs. Furthermore, the participating parties might consider implementing worldwide market restrictions, including bans on specific polymers and additives, and regulations controlling the usage of hazardous additives like endocrine-disrupting chemicals and carcinogens.

Virgin plastic production and use

Reduction in the production and consumption of virgin plastic is crucial for effectively eliminating emissions into marine and other environments over the long term. This necessitates the negotiation of control measures at the global level to progressively decrease the production and use of virgin plastic.

Chemical controls

The Treaty should include obligations to ensure that plastics that remain in the economy are free of hazardous chemicals, including hazardous polymers. These chemicals should be identified with science-based criteria, building on criteria already identified under other multilateral environmental agreements, including the precautionary principle.


The problems of plastic pollution, like fishing gear and trading plastic waste, are already dealt with or can be dealt with in different international agreements. But the actions to stop plastic pollution on land and in the sea aren’t coordinated enough. So, it’s important to work with other global and regional efforts. Coordination should be the foundation of regulating the new Convention on Plastic Pollution, promoting good teamwork and organization while respecting the differences among participants.

Technical and financial support

Achieving the goals of the Convention on Plastic Pollution will require technical and financial resources. In addition to ensuring the work of the secretariat, resources will be needed to support the adoption of solutions and assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

To achieve our goals, it’s important to strengthen science policy, work together globally, and use science-based methods. When making political decisions, we need to consider how they will affect people and communities, including the cost, the economy, and social issues like gender equality and indigenous rights.

A global agreement should include a mechanism to provide financial support to developing countries and economies in transition to assist with implementation and compliance.  This financial mechanism should combine multiple sources of funding and ensure the operationalization of the polluter-pays principle.

Monitoring and reporting

Monitoring and reporting on the state of the environment will be a critical aspect of the Convention on Plastic Pollution, in particular, the evolution of two indicators:

  • environmental monitoring of plastic pollution
  • reporting on circular economy

For monitoring plastic pollution parties will need to develop a harmonized environmental monitoring framework outlining what will be monitored, such as seafloor, seawater, shoreline, biota, passively fished waste or other compartments such as freshwater and soils.

To efficiently report on the circular economy there is a need to collect information on the entire life cycle of plastic: from production and use to collection, recycling and management of plastic waste. This data will, over time, determine the success or failure of policies and measures adopted, and will serve as the basis for future decisions.

One of the fundamental ideas of the Convention on Plastics Pollution is the gradual reduction of virgin plastic production and the limitation of the use of toxic chemicals in plastics. This issue has become a sticking point in many negotiations held since March 2022 up to the present day.

Key messages regarding the Treaty – what will be important for the success of the Treaty:

  1. Targets to cap and dramatically reduce virgin plastic production, commensurate with the scale and gravity of the plastic pollution crisis and aligned with planetary limits. This includes, but is not limited to, the elimination of single-use plastics and other non-essential, unnecessary, or problematic plastic products and applications—including intentionally-added microplastics.
  2. Promoting reuse systems, which present a vital opportunity to move away from the existing linear take-make-waste packaging economy. Single-use packaging is a major contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis. The linear pathways of production and waste of single-use packaging materials, and their effects on our climate, environment, biodiversity, and health cannot continue. The introduction and scaling up of reuse systems offer a transformative solution to single-use packaging pollution by reducing virgin material use, retaining packaging in the economy, diverting waste packaging away from landfills and incineration, and reducing pollution and emissions.
  3. Bans on toxic chemicals in all virgin and recycled plastics based on groups of chemicals, including additives (e.g., brominated flame-retardants, phthalates, bisphenols) as well as notoriously toxic polymers (e.g. PVC).
  4. Legally binding, time-bound, and ambitious targets to implement and scale up reuse and refill to accelerate the transition away from single-use plastics. Correspondingly, the treaty must reject false solutions, regrettable substitutes, and polluting and ineffective techno-fixes such as “chemical recycling,” incineration, waste-to-energy, co-processing of plastic-rich RDF in cement kilns, plastic credits, and other schemes which perpetuate business as usual and support continued plastic production and pollution to the further detriment of the climate and human and environmental health.
  5. Strong regulations on the plastic waste trade, often done under the banner of plastic “recycling.” This should include banning all plastic waste exports from OECD to non-OECD countries while minimizing all other plastic waste trade; a strict ban on the export of plastic waste for thermal treatment, including incineration, co-incineration in cement kilns, plastic-to-fuel processes, and similar uses which threats the public health and the environment. Additionally, the treaty must harmonize all definitions of plastic waste in national and regional legislation and global policies while mandating full public transparency in local and national laws for plastic waste generation and management.
  6. A just transition to safer and more sustainable livelihoods for workers and communities across the plastics supply chain, including those in the informal waste sector; and addressing the needs of frontline communities affected by plastic production, incineration, and open burning. This approach necessitates respect for human rights and Indigenous Peoples’ rights and due recognition of the traditional knowledge and expertise of Indigenous and tribal original people of the lands affected, as well as local communities, waste pickers, and formal sector recyclers towards resolving the crisis.
  7. The treaty should also set publicly accessible, legally binding requirements for the transparency of chemicals in plastic materials and products throughout their whole life cycle.
  8. Plastic credits do not reduce plastic production and therefore do not contribute to a solution to the plastics crisis, and they are not a genuine application of the polluters pays principle. Credits are used to justify the continued use of single-use plastic by credit buyers and do not reduce plastic pollution in the country where the credit buyer operates. Plastic offsetting fails to recognize other types of pollution from plastic other than litter, and schemes often rely on burning plastic in cement kilns to dispose of waste, generating air pollution and damaging the health of local communities. The treaty must not recognise plastic credits, offsetting, or the term ‘plastic neutral’ as an eligible way to claim plastic reduction. In addition, discussions on innovative financing, such as plastic credits, must not distract from the vital discussions on dedicated financing.