A global plastics treaty that tries to cap virgin resin production has been both a goal for some key parties in the negotiations and a red line for plastics companies that don't want to see it.
It's too soon to say whether the treaty would include something like an explicit hard cap — some are skeptical it would. But an agreement could reinforce other steps that do the same thing and drive down use of virgin plastics, a point made by plastics executives at the treaty's late May negotiating session in Paris.
"Our belief is that circularity and making sure that we get more circular products and enable an economy that is built on circularity will at the end result in that as well," said Benny Mermans, chairman of the World Plastics Council and a Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. executive. "It will lead to a reduction in virgin plastics use."
Similarly, a delegate from the American Chemistry Council said at the negotiations, held May 29 to June 2 in Paris, that a treaty that incentivizes new business models for plastics could lead to less virgin plastics use and do it in a way that doesn't dictate to countries.
"If we put in place models of circularity and we're making that transition, a natural occurrence probably will be less virgin plastic and plastic products," said Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at ACC. "That is very different than a global regulatory scheme that basically ties countries' arms behind their backs and dictates what they could do."
Virgin caps are very much a point of debate within the treaty. Advocates for caps and other strict measures to move away from virgin fossil-based plastics say they're needed because waste management systems can't cope with the volume of plastics used now, let alone if production ramps up rapidly, as some projections say.
The High Ambition Coalition, a group of 50-plus countries including Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Japan, is explicitly calling for "binding provisions in the treaty to restrain and reduce the production and consumption of primary plastic polymers to sustainable levels."
And a group of large consumer product makers like Unilever plc, Coca-Cola Co. and Nestle are in a coalition presenting a common position in the talks endorsing reduction of plastic production.
"It's a really clear message we're bringing here to governments that actually leading businesses think that measures to address the production and use of plastics are going to be critical to addressing plastics pollution in general," said Ed Shepherd, a spokesman for the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty and a Unilever senior sustainability manager.
In an interview in Paris, Shepherd said Unilever has reduced its use of virgin plastics by 13 percent since 2019.
"As a company, we've committed to moving away from virgin plastics use, as have all the companies within the [Ellen MacArthur Foundation] global commitment, which is about 20 percent of global plastic packaging volumes," he said.