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Analysis-Big Oil’s plastic boom threatens U.N.’s ‘historic’ pollution pact -Breaking


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – A delegate poses near a monument of 30 feet dubbed “turnoff the plastic tap” by Benjamin von Wong. It is made from plastic waste at the site of the Fifth Session United Nations Environment Assembl

Joe Brock and John Geddie

NAIROBI (Reuters – Every side was eager to celebrate the United Nations’ historic deal to set up the world’s first ever plastic pollution treaty. This could lead to trouble.

U.N. endorsed the 2024 deadline for a final treaty. The Environment Assembly called the agreement to finalise such a treaty by 2024, which the U.N.

This has given an intergovernmental negotiation committee the difficult task of reaching consensus over key issues, such as the rising production of single use plastic. Single-use plastic is made of oil, so it is a potential growth market for petrochemical hubs in the United States, China or Saudi Arabia.

There is a lot of pressure on governments to stop the rise in throwaway plastic, such as coffee cups, take-out containers and bubble wrap. An IPSOS survey last month revealed that 34% of people supported banning single-use plastic. Many of these end up clogging our oceans and urban waterways.

Interviews with industry executives and representatives of environmental organizations revealed that there is an underlying divide between large plastic producers, who prefer to concentrate on recycling, and European Union, some developing countries, which are pushing for restrictions in plastic production.

Over the next two-years, five meetings will be held by members of U.N.’s negotiating committee to attempt to reach a settlement.

Eirik Lindebjerg (WWF global plastics policy manager), stated that “the big battle will be about production and whether countries want to place in place global regulations.”

“The text of the resolution encourages nations to solve these problems but does not provide any clear guidance.”

According to U.N., plastics could be responsible for 20 percent of total oil consumption by 2050. Environment Programme.

According to a WWF analysis of over 2,000 scientific studies, this will lead to ocean plastic pollution quadrupling by 2050. Some marine species may become extinct, and many fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs or mangrove swamps being irreparably destroyed.


According to the petrochemicals sector, virgin resin production will double by 2040. This industry believes that better trash and recycling is the solution.

Stewart Harris is the American Chemistry Council’s director for plastics policy. He said that overall production limits on resin are not supported by him. This industry group includes ExxonMobil (NYSE), Shell and Dow.

Harris stated that the industry is “very satisfied” with the outcomes of the negotiations because they will enable countries to choose how to address waste. For example, investing in recycling technology.

The United States, the world’s top per capita single-use plastic polluter and home to several of the world’s largest chemicals companies, has not made its position clear on whether it will put limits on production.

“The goal here is to give countries the flexibility to develop national action plans that work best for them,” said Monica Medina, the head of the U.S. delegation in Nairobi.

“Overly prescriptive ‘top down’ approaches can sometimes get in the way of actually having technological innovation.”

Reuters conducted a series of research last year that revealed major problems with new plastic recycling technology. However, there was a significant rise in plastic garbage being burned as a fuel.

Because of the low cost and availability of oil-based plastic, less than 10% is actually recycled.

It is foolish to believe that recycling will solve all problems. We need to start first of all with prevention measures,” the EU’s environment chief Virginijus Sinkevicius told Reuters, adding he wanted to see curbs on virgin plastic production.

Others prefer to take a less direct approach, including major global powers.


Yoshihide hirao, a Japanese official in environmental affairs, stated to Reuters, that Tokyo would prefer to support alternative materials, such as bioplastics, than limit virgin material.

“Some countries may choose a more stringent approach. That’s fine, but in our view, it is probably up to national circumstances,” he said, adding that Japan’s large petrochemical sector had been receptive to the country’s “softer approach”.

Treaty terms could also impact consumer goods giants like Nestle, PepsiCo (NASDAQ) or Unilever (NYSE).

The EU has set targets for these companies to use more recycled materials in packaging. They want a treaty which reduces virgin production.

Inger Andersen, the U.N. head. Environment Programme Inger Andersen told reporters this week that reducing plastic production will be one of the most “complex” issues for negotiators to overcome.

Environment groups anticipate a hard two years of negotiation.

Anne Aittomaki is the strategic director for Plastic Change in Denmark. She stated, “This issue of plastic production will be a minefield.”

“I believe people don’t realize what they signed up for.”