Hot Topics

Addressing the Urgency of a Global Plastics Treaty

GS-3 Mains : Environment

Revision Notes

Why in News?

  • Representatives from 175 countries are negotiating the first-ever global treaty to address plastic pollution in Ottawa, Canada.


  • The UN Environment Assembly mandated the creation of a global plastics treaty by the end of 2024.
  • This is the fourth round of negotiations, with the final round scheduled for South Korea.

What is Plastic?

  • Plastics are synthetic or semi-synthetic materials with polymers as their main ingredient.
  • Most are derived from fossil fuels like natural gas or petroleum.

Types of Plastics

  • Common polymers used in plastics include:
    • PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)
    • HDPE (High-density polyethylene)
    • PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)
    • LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)
    • PP (Polypropylene)
    • PS (Polystyrene)
  • Each type has different properties and can be identified by a resin identification code (RIC) symbol.

Concerns of Plastic Pollution

  • Plastics are difficult to decompose, leading to environmental problems.
  • They break down into microplastics, which contaminate ecosystems globally.
  • Chemicals like BPA used in plastics can harm human health.
  • Plastic production and incineration contribute to climate change.
  • Plastic waste harms tourism and creates economic burdens for cleaning and maintenance.

Why is a Global Plastics Treaty Needed?

Plastic Pollution Crisis

  • Plastic production skyrocketed: 2 million tonnes in 1950 to 450 million tonnes in 2019 (projected to double by 2050, triple by 2060).
  • Slow decomposition: 20-500 years, with less than 10% recycled.
  • Plastic waste in the environment: nearly 6 billion tonnes (2023 study by The Lancet).
  • Annual plastic waste generation: 400 million tonnes (expected to jump 62% by 2050).
  • Plastic’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions: 1.8 billion tonnes in 2019 (3.4% of global emissions; 90% from production) (OECD report).

Global Efforts to Address Plastic Waste

  • London Convention (1972): Prevents marine pollution by dumping waste.
  • UN Environment Programme’s Clean Seas Campaign (2017): Raises awareness on plastic pollution and marine litter.
  • Basel Convention (amended in 2019): Regulates plastic waste as a controlled material.
    • Binding on 186 countries.

India’s Initiatives

  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Plastic manufacturers manage and dispose of waste generated by their products.
  • Plastic Waste Management Rules (2022 Amendment): Bans thin plastic carry bags (less than 120 microns).
  • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: National cleanliness campaign including plastic waste collection and disposal.
  • Plastic Parks: Specialized industrial zones for plastic waste recycling and processing.
  • Beach Clean-Up Drives: Government and NGOs organize drives to collect plastic waste from beaches.

Challenges to a Global Plastics Treaty

  • Opposition from Oil & Gas Producers: Aim to narrow the scope, focusing only on waste and recycling.
  • Delay Tactics by Certain Countries: Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran oppose production caps.
  • Decision-Making Process: Consensus vs. majority vote not yet decided.
  • High-Ambition Coalition (HAC): 65 nations seeking to tackle plastic production (US not a member).

The Way Forward

  • The treaty could be as significant as the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • It could:
    • Set guidelines for rich nations to help poorer nations reduce plastic use.
    • Ban certain plastics, products, and chemical additives.
    • Establish legally binding targets for recycling and recycled content in consumer goods.





Additional Notes

Types of Plastic:

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate):

  • A thermoplastic plastic used in various packaging and textiles.
  • Strong, durable, and chemically resistant.
  • Commonly used in bottles, containers, food packaging, clothing, and furniture.
  • Recyclable and can be reused to make polyester fibers.

HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene):

  • Another thermoplastic plastic that’s stiff, dense, and strong.
  • Also chemically resistant and water-resistant.
  • Commonly used in milk bottles, pipes, plastic bags, and toys.
  • Recyclable and can be reused to make various plastic products.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride):

  • A thermoplastic plastic that’s flexible, strong, and durable.
  • Fire-resistant and chemically resistant as well.
  • Commonly used in pipes, windows, doors, flooring, and wire insulation.
  • PVC can have some negative health and environmental impacts, so use it with caution.

LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene):

  • A thermoplastic plastic that’s soft, flexible, and transparent.
  • Also chemically resistant and water-resistant.
  • Commonly used in grocery bags, plastic wrap, toys, and furniture.
  • Recyclable and can be reused to make various plastic products.

PP (Polypropylene):

  • A thermoplastic plastic that’s strong, lightweight, and durable.
  • Also chemically resistant and heat-resistant.
  • Commonly used in food containers, furniture, pipes, and automobile parts.
  • Recyclable and can be reused to make various plastic products.

PS (Polystyrene):

  • A thermoplastic plastic that’s lightweight, rigid, and brittle.
  • Also heat-resistant and water-resistant.
  • Commonly used in food containers, packaging, insulation, and furniture.
  • PS is recyclable, but it can be difficult to reuse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *