What to expect during pivotal talks to end plastic pollution

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (Naja Bertolt)

Negotiators will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, from 13-19 November for the latest in a series of talks designed to forge a legally binding global instrument to end plastic pollution.

The discussions, which represent the third session of what is known as the International Negotiating Committee (INC-3), come with the world weathering what has been described as a plastic pollution crisis.

Humanity produces around 430 million tonnes of plastic every year, two-thirds of which quickly becomes waste. Much of that ends up polluting land, sea and air while increasingly working its way into the human food chain. During INC-3, negotiators are expected to discuss an initial draft of a global instrument released earlier this year, to end plastic pollution.

We spoke with the Executive Secretary of the INC Secretariat, Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, about the upcoming talks and why a global plastics treaty is so important.

What is the goal of the INC process?

Jyoti Mathur-Filipp (JMF): The aim is to complete negotiations by the end of 2024 on an international legally binding global instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

Why is this process so important?

JMF: Plastic pollution has a devastating effect on ecosystems, the climate, the economy and our health. The social and economic costs of plastic pollution range between 300 US dollars and 600 US dollars billion a year, yet plastic production has surged over the past 50 years and is expected to double over the next 20 years if no action is taken.


This marks the third session of the INC. What happened at INC-2?

JMF: INC-2 took place in Paris earlier this year with more than 1,700 participants, including delegates from 169 UN Member States. They gave a mandate to the chair, with the support of the secretariat, to prepare a zero draft text of the global instrument ahead of INC-3. The zero draft was drafted based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastics, ranging from microplastics to the incentivization of non-plastic substitutes.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

What will happen at INC-3?

JMF: INC-3 will be a crucial milestone to advance the consideration, understanding and articulation of some of the main elements of the future legally binding instrument, with the aim of mandating the development of the next iteration of the draft text of the instrument for consideration at INC-4, which will be held in April 2024 in Canada. The session will also feature 12 side events focusing on everything from promoting sustainable plastic production and consumption to socio-economic considerations in the transition to circular approaches to plastic.

What needs to happen to tackle plastic pollution?

JMF: We need to reduce the amount of plastics produced and eliminate single-use and short-lived plastic products. We also need to transform our ‘throwaway economy’ to a ‘reuse economy,’ where reusing plastic products makes more economic sense than throwing them away. It is important to switch to non-plastic substitutes and plastic alternatives which do not have the potential for negative environmental and social impacts. This all must come before recycling, which only tackles the end of life of plastic rather than the root cause of pollution.

What message do you have for participants in the INC process?

JMF: We know that we have the science. We need to keep the Nairobi spirit and get the substantive discussions moving, for a global solution to be reached by the end of 2024.

Ending plastic pollution is not a job for governments alone. Civil society, academia, youth and the informal sector are all part of the solution. We look forward to your active engagement and contribution to the process.

Source: UNEP