Plastic Pollution Treaty

Activist Dianne Peterson places a sign on an art installation outside a United Nations conference on plastics April 23 in Ottawa, Ontario. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP

OTTAWA, Ontario  — For the first time, negotiators from most of the world’s nations are discussing the text of what is supposed to become a global treaty to end plastic pollution.

Delegates and observers at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution called it a welcome sign that talk has shifted from ideas to treaty language at this fourth of five scheduled plastics summits.

Most contentious is the idea of limiting how much plastic is manufactured globally. Currently, that remains in the text over the strong objections of plastic-producing countries and companies and oil and gas exporters. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels and chemicals.

The Ottawa session was scheduled to end late Monday or early Tuesday. On Monday night there could sharp discussion over whether this question of plastic production is a focus for working groups before the next and final meeting.

Stewart Harris, an industry spokesperson with the International Council of Chemical Associations, said the members want a treaty that focuses on recycling plastic and reuse, sometimes referred to as “circularity.”

“We want to see the treaty completed,” Harris said. “We want to work with the governments on implementing it. The private sector has a role to play.”


Dozens of scientists from the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty came to the meeting to provide scientific evidence on plastic pollution to negotiators, in part, they said, to dispel misinformation.

“I heard yesterday that there’s no data on microplastics, which is verifiably false: 21,000 publications on micro and nanoplastics have been published,” said Bethanie Carney Almroth, an ecotoxicology professor at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg who co-leads the coalition. “It’s like Whac-A-Mole.”

She said scientists were being harassed and intimidated by lobbyists and she reported to the U.N. that a lobbyist yelled in her face at a meeting.

Despite their differences, the countries represented share a common vision to move forward in the treaty process, Ecuador’s chief negotiator, Walter Schuldt said.

“Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about the survival of the future of life, not only of human life but all sorts of life on this planet,” he said in an interview.

He said he was proud to participate, to contribute his “grain of sand” to global action to address an environmental crisis.


Negotiators aim to conclude a treaty by the end of 2024. Topics assigned to expert working groups by tonight will advance into the final round of talks in the fall in South Korea.

Without this preparation work between meetings, it would be daunting to complete the negotiations this year. Multiple countries said Sunday night they’re committed to working in between meetings.

The treaty talks began in Uruguay in December 2022 after Rwanda and Peru proposed the resolution that launched the process in March 2022.

Progress was slow during Paris talks in May 2023 and in Nairobi in November as countries debated rules for the process.

When thousands of negotiators and observers arrived in Ottawa, Luis Vayas Valdivieso, the committee chair from Ecuador, reminded them of their purpose, asking them to be ambitious.

“The world is counting on us to deliver a new treaty that will catalyze and guide the actions, and international cooperation needed to deliver a future free of plastic pollution,” he said. “Let us not fail them.”


The delegates have been discussing not only the scope of the treaty, but chemicals of concern, problematic and avoidable plastics, product design, and financing and implementation.

Delegates also streamlined the unwieldy collection of options that emerged from the last meeting.

Many traveled to Ottawa from communities affected by plastic manufacturing and pollution. Louisiana and Texas residents who live near petrochemical plants and refineries handed out postcards aimed at the U.S. State Department saying, “Wish you were here.”

They traveled together as a group from the Break Free From Plastic movement, and asked negotiators to visit their states to experience the air and water pollution firsthand.

“This is still the best option we have to see change in our communities. They’re so captured by corporations. I can’t go to the parish government,” said Jo Banner, of the St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana. “It feels this is the only chance and hope I have of helping my community repair from this, to heal.”

Members of an Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus held a press conference Saturday to say microplastics are contaminating their food supply and the pollution threatens their communities and ways of life guaranteed to them in perpetuity. They felt their voices weren’t being heard.


“We have bigger stakes. These are our ancestral lands that are being polluted with plastic,” Juressa Lee, of New Zealand, said after the event. “We’re rightsholders, not stakeholders. We should have more space to speak and make decisions than the people causing the problem.”

Traditionally, there was no plastic, but now in the Bay of Plenty, their source of seafood, the sediment and shellfish are full of tiny plastic particles. They regard nature’s “resources” as treasures, Lee added.

“Indigenous ways can lead the way,” Lee said. “What we’re doing now clearly is not working.”

Vi Waghiyi traveled from Alaska to represent Arctic Indigenous peoples. She’s reminding decision-makers that this treaty must protect people from plastic pollution for generations to come.

She said, “We come here to be the conscience, to ensure they make the right decision for all people.”

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