More than 30 companies, among whom several plastics companies, as well as environmental groups and governments have issued a call for a new global treaty to tackle plastic pollution.
The companies, including Amcor, Borealis AG and Tomra, as well as multinational firms like Coca-Cola Co. and Unilever, on Oct. 14 issued what they termed a manifesto urging United Nations member countries to develop a global plastics treaty.
As well, a group of Nordic countries plans to issue a similar report Oct. 19 pushing for a new binding legal framework worldwide to address plastics in the environment.
The business group, which is part of a coalition with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, said it wanted to go beyond the voluntary agreements that many companies have already made.
"These actions alone cannot solve this issue," the companies said. "A coordinated international response is needed, one that aligns businesses and governments behind a shared understanding of the causes of plastic pollution, and a clear approach to addressing them."
The group issued a report, "The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution," that argued that businesses are facing increased "reputational risk" around plastic in the environment, and said it "is no longer a question of whether regulation is coming, but what regulation is coming."
Polyolefins maker Borealis argued that, while there's been a doubling of voluntary initiatives and national regulations over the last five years, plastic continues to "leak into the environment at alarming rates."
"There is an urgent need to amplify current efforts through a more coordinated and ambitious approach," Borealis said in a news release. "The report sets out the opportunity for a new global UN treaty on plastic pollution to significantly accelerate progress towards a circular economy for plastics."
The report said the treaty should set a specific date for stopping plastics from entering the oceans, including having countries commit to "clear national targets and action plans," harmonized regulatory standards and definitions, and coordinated approaches to support infrastructure development and innovation.
"We have seen important steps taken by businesses and governments in addressing plastic pollution over recent years," said Ellen MacArthur, founder and board chair of the foundation that bears her name.
"But voluntary initiatives alone are not enough to solve plastic pollution and we believe governments and policymakers have a vital role to play," she said. "A binding global agreement that builds on the vision of a circular economy for plastic can ensure a unified international response to plastic pollution that matches the scale of the problem."
She urged the next meeting of the UN Environment Assembly, set for February, to start negotiations.
Stefan Ranstrand, CEO of recycling equipment maker Tomra, said there are many steps businesses can take, from "from auditing business supply chains to improve their sustainability to adopting new business operations that embrace circular economy models and maximize resource value."
"It is important business recognize they have a crucial role to play," he said.
Other corporate signatories include Constantia Flexibles, Pepsico Inc., Colgate Palmolive, Nestle and Procter & Gamble Co.
A group of Nordic nations also plan to issue a report Oct. 19 outlining what they see as the key elements of a global treaty.
Norway, which is a member of the group, was one of the main drivers behind changes in 2019 to another global treaty, the Basel Agreement, that put new restrictions on trade in plastic scrap for recycling.
At an Oct. 13 webinar sponsored by the Ocean Foundation, a Norwegian government official said a global agreement could help improve product design for plastics and argued there are too many gaps in global rules to effectively deal with the problem.
"In order to create a level playing field for businesses to innovate and improve their products, we need a common set of guiding principles," said Maren Hersleth Holsen, state secretary at Norway's Ministry of Climate and Environment.
"Reports from the UN have demonstrated fundamental gaps in the existing international legal and policy frameworks, rendering them ill-equipped to efficiently deal with this problem," she said. "Therefore strengthening global governance to address the urgent challenge is a key priority for my government and the rest of the Nordic countries."
A member of the U.S. Congress on the webinar, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said the recently passed marine litter legislation, Save our Seas Act 2.0, specifically called for the U.S. government to participate in new international agreements.
Holsen said Norway believes that language in SOS 2.0 could help move debate on a new plastic treaty. Many countries around the world have submitted comments to the U.N. on what they would like to see in a plastics treaty, she said.
"We have noticed with great interest in the Save our Seas Act 2.0, as it is sent back to the Senate, that the U.S. will take on a global leadership role and assess the potential for a new international agreement," she said. "From our point of view, this would be a much welcome step to make progress globally."