‘ZERO DRAFT’ OF THE UN PLASTIC POLLUTION TREATY
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- The ‘zero draft’ of the UN plastic pollution treaty was published by the UN Environment Program.
- The Zero Draft Treaty is an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution including in the marine environment.
Details pertaining to the Zero Draft Treaty
- The zero draft has 10 placeholders to discuss issues like the preamble, definitions, principles and scope, in addition to the institutional arrangements and the final provisions.
- A placeholder is a recognition of the fact that all the matters of the legal instrument have not been discussed by the member states in detail. This gives the member states more time to prepare and negotiate elements that are of interest to them.
- However, a placeholder, especially for the “scope” of the instrument, may not be a good sign as it opens up avenues for redefining it at the third INC.
- Member states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China at INC-2 stressed the importance of defining the scope of the legally binding instrument. India had agreed with this proposal. However, it should be duly noted that the United Nations Environment Assembly resolution 5/14 clearly defined the scope of the future instrument, which is to “cover the full life cycle of plastics”.
- The submission by New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to the INC secretariat points out that the phraseology “full life cycle of plastic” is used by various stakeholders and is open to interpretation subject to the interests of the stakeholders.
- The CSE submission also asserts that the full life cycle starts with the extraction (of crude oil) and sourcing of raw materials for manufacturing polymers and includes the stages of refining it, followed by production, distribution and use till the disposal of plastics.
The Life Cycle of plastic and its stakeholders
Life cycle phase
Extraction / Sourcing of raw materials
Oil and gas industry
Petrochemical refineries/ chemical manufacturers
Product producers / brand owners / consumers
Dematerialisation (waste management)
Waste workers / local governments
- Despite the roadblock created by the ‘No ambition coalition’, the zero draft does have progressive areas which keep the hope for a strong legally binding instrument alive.
- The coalition is a group of countries with economic interests in increased and unsustainable production of polymers/plastic.
- It caused talks at the INC-2 to be distracted and delayed from reaching a decision especially with respect to the Rule of Procedure.
The zero-draft talked about:
- Reduction in the production of primary plastic
- Elimination of polymers and chemicals of concern
- Elimination of problematic, avoidable, and short-lived plastics
- Transparency measures including labelling mechanisms
- Just Transition
- Targets for reduction and reuse
- Each element covered under part II of the Zero Draft has been provided with more than one option. The member states, while negotiating, may first agree to choose either of the options and may then start negotiating on the text and annexes proposed in the draft.
- The annexes mentioned in the zero draft strongly reflect the objective of the future instrument, as they include having a global baseline, time frame, and reduction targets for the production of primary polymers. Criteria for the determination of chemicals and polymers of concern, targets for the phase-out of problematic plastic and plastic products, among other options.
- However, it should be noted that while the chair, in consultation with the INC secretariat, may have done a good job of presenting the zero draft by including the full range of measures to end plastic pollution – it eventually is up to member states to negotiate and build a strong legally binding instrument that is competent to end plastic pollution.
- The zero draft also discussed topics that the negotiating committee might outright reject because they overlap with other multilateral agreements. For instance, the zero draft talks about the transboundary movement of plastic waste — an objective that is covered by the Basel Convention.
- Moreover, the draft also talks about solutions that may be ahead of its time, for instance, the use of recycled content.
- The use of recycled content in plastic manufacturing is already part of the plastic legislation in India. Brand owners will have to start showing the use of recycled plastic in their overall plastic procurement from the fiscal year 2026-27.
- However, procurement does not guarantee the use of recycled content in the plastic product. Furthermore, it is practically impossible to verify claims of using recycled content in a plastic product.
- Tracking and tracing is the only available method that may help in tracking the source and flow of post-consumer plastic waste or recycled granules, but it cannot ensure the use of recycled granules in the actual product.
A member-state-driven process
- Eventually, it boils down to the member states of the intergovernmental negotiating committee to negotiate and agree upon a strong, legally binding instrument.
- It seems difficult, with a lot of committee members indicating their priority lies in economic interests over the environment and even over the health of the people who put their trust in their governments by casting their precious votes.
Q. Tackling plastic pollution will require multi-stakeholder collaboration and engagement. What are the challenges of reducing plastic? How do we end plastic pollution? What role could the UN plastic pollution treaty play in this context?