Reuse should be central component of legally binding treaty on plastics, say speakers

Panelists at side event held on first day of meet hope an agreement is reached quickly

Photo: @andersen_inger / X

Reuse should be the central component of a legally binding treaty on plastics, said panelists at a side event held on the first day of the sixth assembly of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEA-6) in Nairobi on February 26, 2024.

The event, co-hosted by PR3: The Global Alliance to Advance Reuse along with delegations from Chile, Fiji and the European Investment Bank, highlighted the need to incorporate packaging reuse options as part of the ongoing negotiations for a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. The panelists hoped that an agreement with strong reuse provisions would be reached as quickly as possible.

Panelist Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) Secretariat, stated that ‘reuse’ is highlighted 42 times in the updated draft language of the plastics treaty to be presented at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4). The event will be held in Ottawa, Canada from April 23-29 this year.

Mathur-Filipp urged governments, businesses, financial institutions and civil society to come together and deliver on this ambitious target as negotiations for a legally binding agreement on plastics will conclude by the end of 2024.

The panelists also focused on the standards for global scalability of reuse and possible financial mechanisms. All panelists were in strong support of reuse. They stated that reuse used to be the norm. But the increased use of single-use plastics had decreased its role.


The panelists underscored the importance of developing standards and demanded that work on harmonising definitions of reuse and circularity must begin now.

According to United Nations estimates, 36 per cent of all plastic used worldwide is used for packaging and 33 per cent of plastic packaging leaks into the environment. By 2040, reuse methods might reduce plastic pollution by thirty per cent.

Rémi Parmentier, founding director of the Varda Group who moderated the event, reminded that reuse systems can lead to 90 per cent reduction in packaging production and significant CO2 emissions reductions, compared to single-use options.

Less than 10 per cent of plastic waste is currently recycled, stated Ambassador Maria Alejandra Guerra, Permanent Representative of Chile to the UN Environment Programme.

She said the food and beverage sector significantly contributes to the issue of plastic pollution. According to Guerra, reuse is important in Chile since it increases material life.

Nine years ago, plastic wastes were not a priority in the Third UN Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) held in Samoa in 2014.

However, they will be part of the top agenda at the Fourth UN International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Antigua and Barbuda. The meet is scheduled from May 27-30, 2024.

While safe and sustainable reuse systems are required, these ought to be built in a way that benefit the environment and generate employment, said Fiji’s Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Filimoni Vosarogo.

Reuse has better environmental impacts than recycling. It is not just a waste solution but also a climate solution. “Reuse is not an issue of packaging but a system that requires standards to instill confidence for investment in the reuse industry,” said Tiza Mafira, PR3: The Global Alliance to Advance Reuse.

Speakers representing the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) flagged the role of plastics in a circular economy. The challenge of managing plastics must be seen as part of a wider challenge to develop a circular economy, stated Nicola Pochettino, director of environment and natural resources, EIB.

There is a need to define what circularity means and how it can be measured, in order to develop a business model to make circularity work, said Pochettino.

According to Juliet Kabera, co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition to end Plastic Pollution (HAC) and director-general of REMA, reuse necessitates a system. Creating a system is not always simple, she added.

Kabera said in order to change humanity’s relationship with plastic, the High Ambition Coalition is advocating for a top-down strategy, group targets, decreases in polymer manufacturing, and a circular approach.

But reuse must take into account local, regional realities, said representatives of non-profits from Africa and China.

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