ISWA has published my blog that makes the evidence-based case for bringing waste management onto the main agenda of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the proposed international treaty to end plastics pollution; the third INC meeting is in Nairobi 13-17 November 2023. Much of the focus of negotiations is rightly on plastics reduction and circularity. But a necessary parallel component is sound waste management and plastics leakage prevention. It is not a case of one or the other – both are necessary and complementary.

Of course the goal is the 3Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle, restricting the need for sound management to a small fraction of residual plastics waste. But it is also critical to stem the current catastrophic flow of plastics into the environment and the oceans. Extending municipal solid waste collection to all and phasing out uncontrolled dumping and open burning (thus meeting SDG indicator 11.6.1) would halve plastics leakage to the oceans and cut by more than 90% open burning of plastics waste.

Progress towards that target needs to be stepwise – the Zero Draft published in advance of INC-3 makes the mistake of multiplying together three separate indicators into one aggregate indicator, which would run counter to current implementation of the SDGs and introduce a major disincentive to stepwise progress in the least developed countries. The major constraints currently are lack of political will and the mismatch of local costs versus global benefits. The plastics treaty can contribute positively both through making international ‘plastics finance’ available; and by instituting a mechanism for regional or even global negotiation and implementation of proper EPR (extended producer responsibility) ‘with teeth’. Not only does waste management need to be on the main agenda of the INC, but the focus needs to be on improving management of all municipal and related solid wastes, rather than attempting to consider plastic wastes in isolation.