Representatives from 175+ countries are meeting in Nairobi to address the worsening global plastic pollution crisis. Plastic, once considered a marvel, now poses a serious threat to the environment and human health. The conference marks the third round of talks aimed at crafting an International Plastics Treaty.

Plastic waste, reaching millions of tons, is causing harm to ecosystems, wildlife, and even human health. The United Nations launched a two-year effort in 2022 to create a global agreement to combat plastic pollution. The third negotiation session, starting in Nairobi, seeks to make progress toward this goal.

One of the critical issues under discussion is securing funding for the provisions outlined in the treaty, with estimates reaching trillions of dollars from 2025 to 2040. This financial challenge is compounded by equity concerns, as a recent World Wildlife Fund report reveals that middle- and low-income countries bear a disproportionately higher plastic cost despite their lower plastic consumption.

The negotiation process also grapples with questions about the formulation of national action plans by participating countries to reduce plastic pollution and the extent to which provisions of the agreement should be mandatory.

The stance of the United States, often criticized for its perceived alignment with a “low ambition coalition,” is being carefully navigated. The U.S. emphasizes the importance of “meaningful and feasible universal obligations” for participating countries and advocates for essential mechanisms such as national action plans.

A contentious topic on the negotiation table is the role of chemical recycling in managing plastic waste. While industry proponents argue that advanced recycling can divert plastic from landfills and reduce reliance on virgin fossil fuels, environmentalists view it as a form of incineration with potential environmental and health risks.

The State Department’s recent statement adopts a cautious approach, acknowledging the potential of chemical recycling if done in an environmentally sound manner. However, a coalition of 240 environmental groups urges President Joe Biden to cease all support for chemical recycling.

The urgency of the issue is reflected in the ambitious timeline set for the treaty, with the goal of achieving an international agreement on plastics by the end of 2024. As delegates convene in Nairobi, the outcomes of this critical meeting will determine how the world collectively addresses the pressing issue of plastic pollution, presenting a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, as stated by Nick Mallos, vice president for conservation at the Ocean Conservancy.