IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

Chemical Threats to Health and Biodiversity Taking Center Stage in Plastics Treaty Talks

As more science emerges on threats from toxic chemicals in plastics, Plastics Treaty talks enter a new phase centered on eliminating chemicals throughout the plastics life cycle

Paris – As the Plastic Treaty INC-2 negotiations come to a close, IPEN observes that many delegates’ views are evolving, as the talks have advanced from a focus on plastic as a waste and pollution problem, to the current movement toward a Treaty that addresses the threats to health and biodiversity from chemicals throughout the plastics life cycle. Despite roadblocks at the beginning of the week from a small group of countries, progress during the INC-2, including a decision to develop an initial draft text of a Treaty, has set the stage for the upcoming work and the next INC meeting in Kenya later this year toward a Treaty that addresses chemicals and health.

IPEN Co-Chair Dr. Tadesse Amera led the participation by IPEN members from 31 countries during the week’s events and noted, “Projections suggest that a child born today will see plastic production double by the time they turn 18, but we know that the consequences of increasing plastic production will be disastrous for our health, the planet, and the climate. So the stakes are high, but we are optimistic by the growing awareness among delegates of the need for global controls on chemicals in plastics and for limits on plastic production. IPEN looks forward to continuing our participation to achieve a meaningful Plastics Treaty.”

Initially progress at INC-2 was slowed by a small group of countries reliant on their major fossil fuel, plastics, and chemical industries.  However, despite these expected delays, the vast majority of Parties have expressed views showing the urgency of a Treaty centered on eliminating hazardous chemicals that threaten human health and the environment and on a lifecycle approach. For example, the High Ambition Coalition, a group of nearly 60 countries allied for a meaningful treaty, stated:

(We) underline the scientific evidence of adverse health impacts related to plastics throughout the lifecycle, especially for women, infants and young children; workers and residents of frontline communities exposed to toxic chemicals used in or generated as a byproduct from the manufacturing of plastics; and those exposed to toxic chemicals further down the lifecycle of plastics, through use of plastic products and in the management of plastic waste, including waste pickers and waste recyclers.

Plastics are made from carbon (fossil fuels) and chemicals, and toxic chemicals are released throughout their life cycle. Workers and communities are exposed to harmful chemicals linked to cancer, infertility, and other serious health problems during oil and gas extraction, plastic production, export, and waste disposal. Typically those most at risk are low-income communities around the world, who face an unequal burden of health conditions from chemicals in plastics. Consumers are exposed when we use plastic products – and studies from IPEN and others show that products made with recycled plastics can be even more toxic. A science review released just before the week’s event from Greenpeace in collaboration with IPEN and The Last Beach Cleanup revealed health threats throughout the plastic recycling stream and a study by the Food Packaging Forum showed health threats from recycled plastic food packaging. Together these studies and other evidence expose the fallacies of solutions to the plastics crisis based on promoting recycling.

In parallel to the negotiations, supporters of the Angga Swara community in Bali hand-delivered a letter to Danone headquarters in Paris, outlining problems from toxic air and filthy smells from a Danone-Aqua Indonesia plastic and waste material recovery facility. The community has identified and documented fourteen irregularities by Danone’s partners in establishing the facility, including forging several community signatures to obtain the permit.

“At the INC-2 we heard chemical companies tell delegates that this treaty is only about plastic pollution, because they want to ignore the toxic chemicals in plastics,” said Yuyun Ismawati, Senior Advisor of Nexus3 Foundation. “In Indonesia and throughout the Global South, we can’t ignore these chemicals because we see them every day polluting our air, water, food, and communities. A Plastics Treaty needs to address controlling chemicals in plastics and reducing plastic production.”

In the coming months, IPEN will continue to participate in the development of the Plastics Treaty and work toward an ambitious agreement that protects human health and the environment and moves toward a toxics-free future for all.