/ 9 November 2023

Creecy: Talks on global plastic treaty a milestone in bid to end plastic pollution

Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.

South Africa will push for a financial mechanism that will ensure predictable and adequate financial resources to help it tackle plastic pollution at the upcoming round of negotiations on a global plastics treaty, said Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.

She was speaking on Tuesday at the national stakeholder consultation on the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-3). 

This third round of negotiations is scheduled from 13 November to 19 November at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi.

“Should the international instrument lead to obligatory measures to curb plastic pollution, there will be a need for these measures to be supported by equally ambitious means of implementation,” the minister said. “So, developing countries will argue for a financial mechanism that would ensure predictable and adequate financial resources to assist in curbing plastic pollution in developing countries.”

Milestone

The INC-3 represents a milestone” in global efforts to end plastic pollution, as “the zero-draft text of the convention would be under negotiation”, she said. 

“This session takes place at a pivotal juncture because it is halfway to the envisioned implementation target, as the United Nations Environment Assembly has set an ambitious timeline for the conclusion of the instrument by the end of 2024.”

The INC-3 will serve as a platform to negotiate options of legally binding measures for ending plastic pollution by the global community. 

On why South Africa supported its development early last year, she said: “At that time, we recognised the threat plastic pollution poses to human health, ecosystem functioning, and the marine environment. In signing up for this process we recognised our constitutionally imposed obligation to protect our environment and human health.”

For South Africa, this requires a “holistic approach” that understands the full life-cycle of plastic manufacture, use, and disposal in the context of the National Waste Management Strategy 2020. South Africa has focused on three aspects, she said. 

“These are supporting and strengthening municipal waste management services to prevent plastic leaking into the environment; developing extended producer responsibility schemes [EPR] to collect, reuse and recycle plastic waste with the aim of promoting a circular economy in the plastic industry; and promoting public awareness and clean up campaigns to remove plastic waste from rivers, wetlands, and beaches.”

The minister said that during the past two years, these circular economy and EPR initiatives have seen the formation of five registered extended producer schemes that support plastic waste collection and recycling. “This has removed 368 600 tonnes of plastic waste from the environment; it has supported between 60 000 and 90 000 waste reclaimers; and it has promoted hundreds of public clean up and public education initiatives.” 

In the retail and fast-food space, many outlets have substituted single use plastics with biodegradable products and the country now has regulatory requirements for recycled content in plastic and black bags.

More to be done

But South Africa has a “great deal more to do” to tackle plastic pollution and this must be done in the context of two important realities, Creecy said. 

“The first is that South Africa has a significant plastics industry that sustains approximately 60 000 formal jobs and because of this we will ensure that as we approach the problem of plastic pollution and the measures necessary, we work in consultation with the plastics industry and organised labour.

“Secondly, we are a developing country and it is necessary that the Rio principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities as provided for in the founding UNEA [United Nations Environment Assembly] 5/14 decision that mandates this INC work is upheld.”

Certain principles must be established to guide South Africa’s negotiations. “The first is that all our decisions must be based on the best available science and what this science is telling us about the impact of certain products on our environment.”

Second, there needs to be open and transparent sharing of information about the chemicals used in plastic production, given the various applications of plastics in food contact applications. 

The third is that this new international legally binding instrument will likely result in the need for new regulatory controls on a domestic level, while the fourth issue is finance, she said.