The United Nation's top environmental body agreed March 2 to move forward on a global plastics pollution treaty, setting in motion talks that could have a major impact on how plastics are regulated and used around the world.
Countries will now spend two years negotiating details of the treaty, but diplomats meeting at the U.N. Environment Assembly in Kenya said their decision marked a big step toward controlling plastics pollution and putting in place stronger laws to make plastics more circular.
"The bottom line is we will eliminate plastics pollution from our environment," said Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. "[We] need to bring the private sector into the room, because the private sector, after all, are the producers of plastics."
The talks will hash out specifics like financing mechanisms for more waste collection, national targets and goals around product design.
"We need to talk about whether, and how, we measure the degree of circularity," Andersen said at a UNEA news conference as talks concluded. "We'll need to have a conversation about whether we should have some goals for reduced raw polymers in the production chain."
The UNEA decision, which was approved by delegations from nearly 200 countries participating, drew praise from both environmental groups and industry representatives in Nairobi for the talks.
Plastics groups said they liked that the broad mandate of the U.N.'s framework document guiding the talks gives flexibility to countries on how they implement the treaty.
The International Council of Chemical Associations, which includes the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement that it was pleased with the outcome of the UNEA meeting and supports a legally binding treaty.
It said it appreciated governments for "highlighting the significant role plastics play in society."