Ambassador Philippe Franc, Permanent Representative of France to UNESCO
Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra of Peru, Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee,
Ms. Jyoti Mathur-Filip, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee,
Ministers, Excellencies, colleagues, and friends
Welcome to the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution, or INC-2. My thanks to the French government for hosting.
We are gathered in Paris because the linear plastics economy is gushing pollution galore. Choking ecosystems. Warming the climate. Damaging our health. As ever with the triple planetary crisis – the crisis of climate change, the crisis of nature and biodiversity loss, the crisis of pollution and waste – people in the poorest nations and communities suffer the most.
Current commitments will only reduce plastic pollution by around 8 per cent by 2040. The tap will still be wide open. This agreement could be the tool the world uses to close the tap. At INC-2, you can get us closer to this goal by considering the solutions at hand. As you do, bear in mind this: only elimination, reduction, a full life-cycle approach, transparency and a just transition can bring success.
Because the truth is we cannot recycle our way out of this mess. Recycling infrastructure is unable to cope with today’s volumes. Waterfalls of virgin plastic are cascading into the system at one end. Our recycling systems are akin to running around with pots at the other end, catching only a fraction of this torrent to put back into the system. Simply investing in bigger pots and more people to carry them will not fix the problem.
Only a determined elimination of unnecessary plastic, a full redesign of the products that we envelop in plastic and a full market transformation that drastically reduces the flow of virgin plastics can do that.
A full transformation that reduces society’s over-dependence on plastic. One that builds new business models and market opportunities – because this is not about being anti-profit, but anti-pollution. One that creates new jobs along the supply chain and brings justice to vulnerable communities.
This is the promise, potential and ambition of the global treaty you are negotiating.
I have spoken many times about the general principles to follow in this instrument. Making it broad, inclusive and transparent. Leaning on science. Learning from stakeholders. Learning from other multilateral agreements, while not being afraid to innovate. Ensuring financial and technical assistance for developing nations.
Today, I will be a little more specific. Because to me, it’s all about redesign, redesign, redesign, redesign.
One, redesign products to use less plastic – particularly unnecessary and problematic plastics.
Is there really a need for micro and nano plastics in so many hygiene and beauty products? Must shampoo, soaps and detergent be liquified and delivered in a plastic container? Because essentially, we are shipping water across the globe when we create liquid products. Why not ship solids or dry powder or compressed solid products instead? What alternatives – such as recycled paper, compostable materials and other organic options – can be deployed in packaging?
Two, redesign product packaging and product shipping to use less plastic.
I am sure many here have ordered a small item that either arrived in a giant box stuffed with bubble wrap or was so tightly wrapped that it took twenty minutes and a pair of scissors to get in. Is that amount of packaging necessary? Does the packaging have to be plastic? And when we take that approach to the container transport sector, how can we reduce plastic in our shipping? How can we change the design of the product itself or the way we transport it, so it does not require so much protection?
Three, redesign systems and products for reuse and recyclability.
What legislation and incentives can be deployed to expand reuse schemes, such as refillable bottles, bulk dispensers and deposit-return-schemes? How can design guidelines be put in place to make products easier to repair and any plastic used more easily recyclable? We must turn around the absurdity of raw polymer wrenched from the belly of the earth being cheaper than recycled polymer.
Recycled polymer must become a valuable material, prized by companies, households and governments.
Four, redesign the broader system for justice.
As we roll out redesign of our waste management system, and as we roll out Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, we must ensure that we redesign for justice. For the workers in the informal waste sector, for the waste pickers, who amount to a total of some 20 million people. We must include the voices of indigenous people and other marginalized communities. These groups deserve decent jobs and the fulfilment of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, now enshrined by the UN General Assembly. This agreement must deliver for them.
My point here is that plastic has been the default option in design for too long. Disposability has been the default option in design for too long. Leaving poor communities to eke out a living from the plastic scraps others leave behind has been the default option for too long. It is time for chemists, manufacturers and process engineers to get creative. It is time for governments to get creative. It is time for consumers to get creative.
Friends, it is in your hands to design and deliver this transformation, bringing major opportunities for everyone.
A full market transformation – backed by policy, transparency and regulatory change – could virtually eliminate plastic pollution by 2040. Reduce the pressure on recycling and waste management systems, so they can cope. There are huge potential savings for the private and the public sectors, including through reduced social, environmental and human health costs. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
A possible 700,000 jobs – mainly in the developing world.
And, of course, we must also act on legacy pollution. Huge amounts of plastic have accumulated in the environment. Some plastics will continue to fail the circularity test over the next 20 years. A coordinated effort to stop pollution at source, while investing in waste management, clean-up and consumption patterns, can help address this toxic trail.
It will take leadership to deliver – while ensuring a just transition for workers in the informal waste sector and everybody involved in the plastics industry.
Member States should lead by example. Champion key solutions. Be bold. Full stakeholder engagement isn’t an add-on. It’s fundamental. The informal sector. Indigenous peoples. Local communities. Civil society, academia and youth. Nobody should be kept on the outside looking in.
The private sector must be part of the solution. To this key group I would say: do not wait for the agreement. If transforming the plastics industry is a good idea under the agreement – and it is – it is also a good idea now. It is a no-regrets strategy. Yes, engage fully in the INC process, but start innovating your way away from plastic pollution immediately.
Friends, this deal provides our only chance for a future unblighted by plastic pollution.
This future is dependent on a strong deal, which in turn is dependent on what you do this week.
At this gathering, you can set the mandate to prepare a zero-draft of the agreement for negotiation at INC-3.
You have a 2024 deadline to deliver a deal. A meaningful deal. Each year of delay means an open tap and more plastic pollution. So, I ask you to show leadership and inclusive multilateralism here in Paris, as the international community did on climate eight years ago, in this very city. Show ambition, determination and innovation. Set the stage for getting the deal done.
We have already wasted so much time and spewed so much plastic into the environment. We should not also waste this opportunity to do better – for ourselves and for every living creature on this planet.