Finding Synergies and Gaps in the Global Governance of Chemicals and Plastics

The global governance of plastics is rapidly evolving, as governments are increasingly voicing their concern over the global plastic pollution crisis and calling for stepping up international cooperation to resolve it. UNEA 5.2 adopted the historic resolution “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument” by which the Assembly decided to convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. In this context, it will be important to minimize the release of substances of concern into the environment and prevent human exposure in order to achieve safe circularity of plastics, focusing on source prevention.

This requires that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other substances of concern used as additives in plastics and other chemicals used as processing aids across the life cycle of plastics relating to raw materials extraction and transportation, feedstock production and processing, product design and manufacturing, distribution and use, waste management and cleaning of legacy plastic pollution are properly addressed in the development of a global response to the plastic pollution crisis.

While plastic polymers and industrial chemicals are often treated separately from a governance perspective, they are both derivatives from the petrochemical and chemical industry, thus their management and governance cannot be separated, but should be viewed in a holistic manner in order to develop an effective global response. Current global discussions are exploring the option of an overarching global agreement to manage plastics, while acknowledging that existing multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) also have an important complementary role to play.

The project is funded by the Government of Norway and implemented in cooperation with the University of Wollongong.

Goals and objectives

  1. To map the global governance landscape of management of substances of concern used in plastics, including possibilities for streamlining the management and governance of plastic polymers and other chemicals deriving from the same industry. Substances of concern used in plastics will be mapped separately to determine to what extent existing global and regional MEAs and other relevant processes can contribute to eliminating and restricting their use, as well as, to identify groups of chemicals that fall beyond the scope of existing regulatory instruments.
  2. To outline options how a possible global plastics agreement could address substances of concern used as additives in plastics or in processes across the life cycle of plastics, including possibilities for enhancing synergies with existing instruments. This also includes examining how the introduction of substances of concern could be prevented from the outset, in context of the possible development and adoption of global sustainability criteria for plastics.

Analytical Methods

Data collection of the study is conducted through three main components:

  • A literature review of both scientific and grey literature is carried out.
  • A multi-stakeholder advisory group is established to support the preparation of the study and review the findings.
  • Two online expert workshops are organized to gain collective insights and discuss opportunities from various perspectives for finding synergies and identifying gaps.

Contact

For more information, please contact the Secretariat: Kei Ohno (kei.ohno@un.org).