Results from UN INC-4 negotiations on a global plastics treaty

By Cassandra Stern

- Last updated on GMT

In UNEP's media statement, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said," We are doing everything we can to raise the international profile of the plastic pollution crisis so that the agreement gets the global attention it deserves to cross the finish line." © samael334 Getty Images
In UNEP's media statement, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said," We are doing everything we can to raise the international profile of the plastic pollution crisis so that the agreement gets the global attention it deserves to cross the finish line." © samael334 Getty Images

Related tags UNEP Plastic packaging Sustainability

The fourth session of the UN Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee advanced the draft text for a global treaty on plastic pollution, emphasizing sustainable packaging and waste management, critical for cosmetics and personal care manufacturers.

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) on a global agreement to end plastic pollution concluded last month, marking significant progress towards a legally binding treaty. As reported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "more than 2,500 delegates participated in INC-4, representing 170 Members and over 480 Observer organizations including - non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and UN entities," meaning "INC-4 marked the Committee's largest and most inclusive gathering to date, with Observer participation increasing by almost fifty percent." 

This session, which followed "INC-1 in Punta del Este in November 2022, INC-2 in Paris in May/June 2023, and INC-3 in Nairobi in November 2023," has direct implications for the cosmetics and personal care industry. In advance of "INC-5 – set to be the end of the INC process," which is "scheduled for November 2024 in Busan, the Republic of Korea," we reviewed official media releases from the US Department of State and UNEP regarding the recent proceedings, and have compiled our critical takeaways for cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers and suppliers. 

Advanced draft text

The session advanced the draft text of the international legally binding instrument to address plastic pollution. This text includes critical components such as emissions and releases, production and product design, waste management, and addressing problematic and avoidable plastics. For example, as reported in the State Department's press release, during INC-4, "we put forward textual proposals in several sections, including obligations aimed to control emissions and releases of hazardous pollutants from plastic production facilities and waste management facilities handling plastic waste."  

This progress indicates that cosmetics and personal care industry manufacturers should prepare for potentially stricter plastic-use regulations, mainly focusing on sustainable product design and waste management practices. 

Intersessional work

According to UNEP's press release, delegates agreed on intercessional work, or "expert meetings that take place between the official INC sessions," to be conducted before INC-5. This work will include refining the draft text and ensuring that unresolved issues are addressed. In addition, UNEP's release continued, "members decided to create an Open-ended Legal Drafting Group to form at INC-5, serving in an advisory capacity by reviewing elements of the draft revised text to ensure legal soundness." 

From the perspective of the United States delegates, "we appreciate the leadership of the Chair of the INC in building convergence around a program of intersessional work to advance the process heading into the next round of negotiations in Busan. The United States was supportive and pleased to see countries agree to establish ad hoc open-ended expert groups on means of implementation and on approaches to products, chemicals of concern, and related product design issues," the State Department's press release reported.

Ambassador Luis Vayas, Chair of the INC, said in UNEP's press release that the delegates left INC-4 "with a much clearer picture of the work that remains to be done, if we are to deliver on the promise that Members have made through UNEA Resolution 5/14." 

Manufacturers should stay informed about these developments as they unfold over the coming months, as they may influence future regulatory requirements. 

Focus on plastic production

A significant focus of the negotiations was on regulating plastic production levels. As reported in the State Department's media release, throughout INC-4, "the United States worked with other countries to promote universal obligations on polymers, chemicals, products, and other parts of the plastic lifecycle that reduce the demand for primary plastic polymer production."

While the US delegates "recognize that downstream measures alone will not be enough to end plastic pollution," the media release continued, "the United States supports each party being obligated to take measures to identify and control chemicals, including polymers, that present a risk of concern to human health or the environment." As a result, "as part of these obligations, the US approach also focuses on driving down the demand for new plastic," the State Department's media release confirmed. 

Although a consensus has yet to be reached on setting a global cap, this topic remains crucial for further discussion. Companies may need to anticipate potential limitations on plastic production and explore alternative materials and packaging solutions to comply with upcoming regulations.

Inclusive participation

The session saw participation from a wide range of stakeholders, including governmental representatives, non-governmental organizations, and industry groups. "We are all united by our strong shared commitment to deliver an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution," said Vayas in UNEP's media release, adding that "we have found some common ground, and we are walking this path together until the end." 

This inclusive approach ensures that diverse perspectives are considered in the treaty, potentially leading to comprehensive and balanced regulations. In UNEP's media statement, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said," We are doing everything we can to raise the international profile of the plastic pollution crisis so that the agreement gets the global attention it deserves to cross the finish line." 

Therefore, the cosmetics and personal care industry should consider engaging in these discussions to advocate for practical and feasible solutions. 

Potential industry implications & next steps 

For B2B cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers, these negotiations underscore the need to accelerate the shift toward sustainable practices. Key areas to focus on include sustainable packaging, such as investing in biodegradable and recyclable materials to reduce reliance on traditional plastics; product innovation, like designing products with minimal plastic content and enhancing recyclability; and regulatory compliance, or staying abreast of international regulatory trends to ensure compliance and avoid potential disruptions.

Moving forward, the best practices for cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers and suppliers to navigate these impending changes include auditing current practices to assess current plastic use and waste management strategies, investing in R&D with a focus on developing sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging and components, and actively engaging with policymakers by participating in policy discussions to ensure industry-specific concerns are addressed.

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