175 Nations Commit to End Plastic Pollution

Signatories at the UNEA-5 meeting committed to develop a legally binding treaty by 2024 aimed at addressing the full life cycle of plastics.

April 25, 2022

On March 2, the United Nations Environmental Program endorsed a historic resolution to end plastic pollution. Signed by heads of state, ministers of environment, and other representatives from 175 nations at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi, Kenya, the resolution commits signatory nations to forge an international, legally binding agreement to address the full life cycle of plastic, including its design, production, and disposal, by 2024.

“Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN Environment Assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best,” said the President of UNEA-5 and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, Espen Barth Eide, in a UNEP press release. “Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution we are officially on track for a cure.”

The resolution, based on three initial draft resolutions from various nations, establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which will begin its work in 2022, with the goal of completing a draft global legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.

The key objectives of the resolution are:

  1. Address the full lifecycle of plastic products
  2. Address the need for design for reusable and recyclable products and materials
  3. Enhance international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building, and scientific and technical cooperation.

The commitment to a legally binding treaty by 2024 by 175 nations would transform the market for plastic products. Current producers of plastic products will need assistance transitioning to a circular economy, which will require understanding the properties of materials both as individual classes as well as in relation to materials with which they are integrated, creating a wealth of challenges—and opportunities—for suppliers, manufacturers, and product designers across the supply chain.

Materials designed for a circular economy will need to meet existing performance and regulatory standards alongside new standards for extensive re-processability, the performance indicators of which are still under development. Consequently, input from stakeholders across the supply chain will continue to play a critical role as the UNEP treaty evolves from a strategy into specific policies.

How Exponent Can Help

Exponent is equipped with the scientific and engineering expertise to support our clients as they navigate the transition to a circular economy. For example, Exponent can help our clients understand the impact of potentially divergent material properties between pristine and reprocessed materials, such as in post-consumer recycled plastics, and explore tradeoffs between performance and recyclability associated with multi-material components to make informed decisions on managing materials reprocessing streams for specific end uses. By leveraging our integrated multidisciplinary expertise across electrical engineering, materials science, chemistry, toxicology, and ecology, our team can help clients evaluate the potential effects of new materials and circular design strategies on product performance, life cycle, and environmental impacts.

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