A coalition of consumer goods firms and banks that back a global treaty on plastics sees it bringing stability that attracts much-needed new investment.
A representative of the business group, which includes major consumer brands like PepsiCo Inc. and Unilever plc, told an online gathering of United Nations ambassadors Feb. 1 that not having a treaty means "business as usual" since plastic waste problems cross national boundaries.
"The lack of standards drives lack of investment in collection, sorting, reuse or recycling systems, and this leads to negative impacts on the climate," said Jodie Roussell, senior public affairs manager for packaging and sustainability at Nestlé SA. "For companies and investors, this is about creating a level playing field and preventing a patchwork of disconnected solutions."
Initial talks on the treaty are expected to start at a U.N. Environment Assembly Feb. 28 to March 2 in Kenya. The U.N. Environment Programme hosted a Feb. 1 webinar with ambassadors from key countries who have submitted proposals.
Nestlé is part of a group of more than 70 global brands and investment banks who released a statement last month endorsing a legally binding treaty. They said they wanted the pact to endorse cuts in virgin plastic production and de-linking plastics from fossil fuel feedstocks.
The webinar included ambassadors from Japan and Peru, which each have submitted separate proposals for structuring a treaty. As well, U.N. officials at the event said a third proposal has come in from India, but it arrived too late to include Indian diplomats at the online meeting.
The diplomats talked about the need to build momentum and generally said they expect the UNEA gathering to move ahead with a treaty, even if the specifics have yet to be hammered out.
Roussell said the business group wants the treaty to be robust enough to gradually put plastics on a different path.
She made some of the coalition's most extensive comments on how it would like the treaty to go, since its Jan. 17 statement.
"We seek to reduce virgin plastic production and use, and to decouple plastic production from the consumption of fossil fuel resources," said Roussell, who noted Nestlé has a goal of reducing its virgin plastics used by one-third by 2025.
"We're very much hoping that … we're going to be able to see the beginnings of a negotiation process that's going to create a new robust standard for cooperation, for new standards of plastics use and ultimately create the pathways to build the systems for recycling and for reuse that we need to have a real circular economy for plastics," she said.
In her comments, she talked about the critical role of plastics in areas like reducing food waste, protecting food in transport and in medical applications.
But she called for the treaty to address changes along the plastics life cycle, from initial design to how it's handled after it is used.
"We look forward to working with all the parties along the value chain to ensure that the circular economy for plastics can be built through smart decisions in material selection upstream to the right systems for collection, sorting, recycling and reuse in the downstream," she said.
Roussell suggested negotiators look to the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement on reducing ozone depleting chemicals, as a model.
"It didn't result in damage to industry, but rather industry, stakeholders and government were brought together and acted to protect the ozone layer," she said. "We hope you'll aim for the same level of ambition today. We need to regulate plastic to protect our lands and oceans from unregulated littering and to protect our climate and soils for the future of food production."
In the absence of a treaty, she said, there is a patchwork of 400 to 600 new local or national laws worldwide each year dealing with plastics environmental issues.