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Introduction speech for the treaty on plastic waste

Paris, National Assembly on 24 May 2023

Our planet is polluted by plastics which contain chemicals that are seriously harmful to people and the environment.

Most plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases throughout their life cycle. Plastics and the associated chemicals used in their production are pervasive in food chains, contaminating water, soil, and air, and releasing hazardous substances into the environment.

Recent scientific studies have found microplastics in human blood, lungs, and placenta, as well as in livestock feed and milk and meat products. Exposure to toxic chemicals often found in plastics can also affect future generations, impacting fertility, shortening gestation periods, and lowering birth weights.

The plastic crisis has disproportionate impacts on persons, groups and peoples in vulnerable situations such as children, women, Indigenous Peoples, coastal communities, people living in extreme poverty, surrounding communities affected by plastic production facilities, People of African Descent, workers at heightened risk of occupational exposure, including waste-pickers and people with certain medical conditions such as cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and immunosuppression, among others.

These same communities often lack the means for recourse to adequate access to health care, information, and opportunities to protect themselves from exposure to the hazards and impacts of the plastics cycle and access to remedy.

To date, the cost of production and use of plastics has gone largely un-noticed.

Only a fraction of chemicals associated with the plastics life cycle are regulated by existing Multilateral Environmental Agreements. This represents around 4% of all identified chemicals of potential concern and 1% of all chemicals used in plastics.

At the same time, the International Energy Agency predicts that plastic production, which is forecasted to double by 2040, will be the biggest growth market for the oil industry over the next decade. For far too long plastic has been seen as only a waste problem. Even now, when States have the opportunity to agree on a truly ambitious and transformative treaty to end plastic pollution, there are fears that a limited scope focusing on waste and a non-defined concept of circularity, could prevail.

We must do more to address the full spectrum of human rights harms perpetuated by the plastics crisis and the prioritization of short-term profit and unsustainable consumption over human and planetary healthy and wellbeing that it represents.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Last year, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 76/300 recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

The resolution highlighted that the impact of climate change, the unsustainable management and use of natural resources, the pollution of air, land and water, and the unsound management of chemicals and waste have negative implications for the effective enjoyment of all human rights.

The resolution also affirmed that the promotion of the human right to a healthy environment requires the full implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.

Plastic pollution and unsustainable consumption and production are responsible for ongoing, massive human rights harms that negatively affect multiple aspects of human life and dignity, including the rights to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, life, health, food, water and sanitation, and equality and non-discrimination.

A human rights-based approach provides a roadmap to address the plastic crisis. It guarantees all people the rights to participation, access to information and access to justice in environmental matters ensuring inclusive and informed decision-making aligned with scientific evidence and the needs of people in vulnerable situations.

It puts people at the heart of decision making, requiring laws, policies and regulations to take into account the cross-cutting impact of plastics on health, human rights and labour rights, and on the environment.

The rights-based approach also requires Member States to be guided by key principles including non-discrimination, transparency, accountability, precaution, prevention and intergenerational equity. In doing so, it also provides the safeguards to ensure that proposed alternatives are not short sighted and do not lead to further harm. In other words, it safeguards against “false solutions” and “greenwashing”. Alternatives to plastics need to be assessed regarding their implications for human rights, including the right to a healthy environment.

And we need a reality check about recycling.

Data shows that globally, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled . Existing recycling facilities and technologies fall far short of addressing current plastic waste streams, let alone projected increases in plastics production.

Other proposed solutions, such as incineration, plastic-to-fuel and bioplastics, must be assessed regarding their implications for human rights and the environment. The inadequate recycling of plastic waste can release microplastic pollution and increase human exposure to toxic chemicals.

The role of businesses in advancing fake solutions needs to be more closely examined.

Under human rights law, States have obligations to regulate businesses and other actors in order to protect human rights, and businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights. States need to ensure that businesses refrain from supporting public information campaigns based on inaccurate, misleading and unsubstantiated claims that could undermine the ability of States and the public to make informed decisions regarding plastics. Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and do no harm.

Profit and other vested interests should never come at the expense of human rights, including the rights to health and a healthy environment.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In closing, systemic change is necessary to stop the flow of plastic waste into the environment.

Fulfilling the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all requires effective measures to realize change with respect to the production, use and disposal of plastics, to address and remediate the impacts of plastics on our physical environment, and to reimagine humanity’s relationship with nature including through education with respect for nature at its core.

Thank you.