INC-4 | Plastic Pollution · Back to Blog

A Global Plastics Treaty Must Protect People and Communities

Mission-based recyclers urge the United States delegation to push for a full lifecycle analysis of plastic in the development of a global plastics pollution treaty

Next week, international delegates, advocates, and petrochemical enthusiasts will converge in Ottawa, Canada, at the United Nations’ fourth Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop an internationally binding treaty to reduce plastic pollution. The treaty negotiations offer a historic opportunity to achieve a comprehensive international response to the global plastics crisis.

As mission-based, zero waste recyclers, we call on the United States delegation to lead the demand for a strong and effective treaty that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics and prioritizes a significant reduction in plastic production.

Plastic pollution is a growing crisis with a devastating impact on the environment, human health, human rights, environmental justice, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, biodiversity, and our climate. Global actions to address this crisis are urgently needed. Plastic is trashing our planet, and it’s trashing recycling.

Recyclers know firsthand that recycling and other waste management strategies are not the answer to prolific plastic pollution. In a recycling facility, plastic mixes into the paper stream, falls into the glass, clogs up the sorting machinery, and creates employee hazards. Plastic contamination of highly recyclable and valuable materials like aluminum and other metals, glass, paper, and cardboard drives up sorting costs and reduces the value of the materials.

In the last three committee sessions for the global plastic treaty, oil-producing countries sought to reduce the negotiations to only address plastic waste management strategies instead of tackling the real problem: unchecked plastic production. Specifically, these “like-minded countries” have challenged the mandate of addressing plastic waste throughout the full plastics lifecycle. 

In reality, much of the plastic that ends up in a recycling facility was not designed to be recycled. Often, it contains toxic chemicals or is made of a toxic polymer. Moreover, there are no buyers or end markets for most plastic types, it is a low-quality material with no value, and/or it is too difficult to collect and sort. In these instances, nothing can be done with the material, and it will end up in a landfill or incinerator. And when mixed plastic bales are exported, much of it may be dumped or burned and end up in another community’s air, fields, and water. 

View our infographic – Why Are So Few Plastics Recyclable?

More significantly, there is simply too much plastic for recycling to be an authentic strategy to address plastic pollution. Plastic is everywhere, and plastic production is plastic pollution. We urgently need to prioritize keeping resources in the ground and stop extracting more oil and gas for plastic production.

Learn more in AMBR’s short film, Chasing Arrows: The Truth About Recycling

Some policies, like well-designed extended producer responsibility for packaging and deposit return systems, can reduce unnecessary packaging, scale up reuse systems, ensure equitable and convenient access to recycling, and help drive more sustainable product design. However, recycling and waste management strategies alone can never address plastic’s absolute impacts. 

Plastic pollutes at every stage of its lifecycle, from the wellhead to the incinerator. This must be addressed in the global plastics treaty, and the United States must lead the way. AMBR calls on the Biden administration to be a global leader and embrace the waste hierarchy – reduce, reuse, and then recycle –in its negotiations for the treaty.

Read our white paper – The US Needs EPR Policies for Packaging and Paper

Get in Touch with a Recycling Expert: 

Martin Bourque, AMBR’s steering committee member and executive director of Ecology Center, Berkeley, will attend INC-4, closely following negotiations and the drafting of the treaty text to advocate for the inclusion of authentic recycling principles and to ensure recycling isn’t appointed an inauthentic off-ramp for rampant plant production.   

Martin is a renowned environmental expert who has led the Berkeley Ecology Center since 2000. Under Martin’s leadership, the Ecology Center operates the nation’s first and longest-running curbside recycling program and pioneers zero waste policy solutions at the local level, which have national and international implications. 

Please contact Martin for interviews, questions, and expert guidance. 

Email Martin at martin – at –