On 2 March 2022, four regional and thirty-three national cosmetics industry associations from across the globe released a Position Paper (the Paper) in support of a global United Nations Plastics treaty (the treaty). This comes in response to a Resolution reached on the same day at the UN Environment Assembly, with the support of 175 nations, calling for treaty implementation by 2024.
The Paper supports a legally binding treaty that will address the full lifecycle of plastic and enhance global waste management and recycling systems through promoting innovation, eco-design and reducing the production of virgin or single-use plastics.
The treaty has been described by Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, as:
Once the treaty is drawn up, it will provide a framework for future regulation for the phasing out of single-use plastics, waste prevention and tackling pollution on a global scale.
It should also act as a springboard for innovation and the development of new technologies to promote the production of more sustainable materials across the product lifecycle and a stronger circular economy.
The Position Paper – key principles
The Paper outlines seven key principles that are crucial in maintaining industry support:
- Adaptability in implementation: the treaty should allow flexibility for signatories to create frameworks that best enable them to meet the objectives agreed upon within the treaty.
- Interventions across the full lifecycle of plastic: the treaty must include upstream and downstream measures to address plastic pollution.
- Life cycle assessments: cognizant of the pressing need to limit climate change, plastics and alternatives should be evaluated along their lifecycle.
- Guidance on product design: flexibility in product design is paramount. Parties are encouraged to collaborate with industry to develop guidelines on product design that enhance circularity, foster innovation while also ensuring product integrity and consumer safety.
- Increase post-consumer technology capacity and deployment: post-consumer management of plastics, including effective collection, recycling, and value recovery of waste, is essential to eliminate leakage into the environment and to adequate, high quality Recycled Plastic feedstock which is necessary for a circular economy to function. Feedstock recycling involves the breaking down collected plastics into various chemical elements, where mechanical recycling is unjustified due to the low quality or economic value of the plastic. These elements are then used to produce thousands of everyday products such as clothing, whitegoods and plastics.
- Harmonised definitions and reporting: to the extent that is possible, and without prejudice to local deviations, the treaty must provide harmonised definitions and reporting on plastic and plastic waste that leverages existing international standards and definitions. In the absence of such standards, definitions and metrics, parties should collaborate with industry to develop these using validated and harmonised methodologies.
- Proportionality: the treaty must respect the principle of proportionality to ensure outcomes that efficiently and equitably address the issue.
Companies across the supply chain should analyse their products and production lines to consider future proofing operations that may come under scrutiny upon treaty implementation in 2024.
They should also remain mindful that product compliance requirements can be fluid in order to respond to the changing product safety landscape and should be continually evaluated to avoid breaches wherever possible.