Siegfred Aldous Lacerna

Published: May 8, 2024

Nation delegates at the fourth Intergovernmental Negotiating Council (INC-4) produced an advanced draft text of the global plastic treaty, but plastic production provisions remained divisive. 

This development in Ottawa, Canada marked a significant leap forward from the bitter end of the third global plastic negotiations in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023, where delegates failed to advance a draft agreement due to a lack of consensus.

Among the streamlined topics addressed this year were extended producer responsibility, financial mechanisms and resource mobilization, capacity building, technology transfer, and just transition.

However, nations remained divided on plastic production. Top plastic-producing countries continued to express disapproval, citing insufficient evidence between plastic production and human health. 

“While countries such as the Philippines have made crucial progress in standing for reductions in plastic production, compromises were made on the outcome that disregarded plastic production cuts, which is not what 93% of Filipinos wanted to see,” Greenpeace Philippines Zero Waste Campaigner Marian Ledesma said. 

Philippines’ stand

At INC-4, the Philippine delegation called for plastic reduction targets guided by science. 

“We believe that a reduction of primary plastic polymers, global aggregate targets, and national phase-down schedules are essential elements for sustainable production and consumption under the international legally binding instrument. Let us heed the warnings of the world’s scientists,” the country’s position read. 

Greenpeace Philippines called the country’s stand a ‘positive step’.

“We urge the Philippine government to continue on its course to pursue plastic production cuts, both in the global treaty talks and locally by implementing a ban on single-use plastics starting with sachets, and transitioning to reuse and refill systems,” Ledesma said. 

A survey commissioned by Greenpeace International found that 93% of Filipinos support a global treaty that cuts the production of plastics, which seeks to ban the single-use plastic packaging, and oblige governments and corporations to ditch sachet culture and shift to refill and reuse systems. 

“Filipinos are against plastic pollution and want genuine and lasting solutions to the plastic crisis because they know it’s harmful to the health and the environment,” Ledesma said. 

Local action fills the gap

A store in Macalelon, Quezon Province displays a sign saying “Plastic is not allowed. Bring your own bag.” (Photo by Siegfred Lacerna)

While the global treaty is still under development, some areas in countries lacking precise national plastic use regulations have crafted their own policies.

One such example is Macalelon town in Quezon Province, which completely banned the use of 8 x 11 translucent plastics, sando bags, disposable thin plastic cups, thin disposable straws, and different types of styrofoams. 

However, small vendors and business owners, like eatery staff Pearl, are concerned about rising operational costs due to the plastic ban as they have to replace the cheap 8 x 11 translucent plastic with reusable containers.

“Of course, even if we encourage our buyers to bring their own tupperware, not everyone does so we have to provide the alternative,” Pearl said, adding this led to a slight price increase for their meals.

However, some forms of plastic mainly used in making ice, ice candy and bread repackages, and by fish vendors are allowed for regulated use. 

“Banning that type of plastic completely would take away their only source of livelihood,” Carmen Cornejo, the designated Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO) said. 

She added the local government forged a verbal agreement with fish vendors to ensure that they reduce and collect their own plastic waste for disposal. 

The current implementation of the anti-plastic ordinance now allows the use of hard plastic cups, along with their corresponding large straws, in stores selling milk tea, fruit shakes, and other beverages. 

For milk tea shop owners like Gladys Bragais, the anti-plastic ordinance initially caused financial strain because it initially banned all plastic cups. This forced a switch to paper cups, which were significantly more expensive and unsuitable for takeout. 

Pearl recognized the need to shift away from plastic waste, but stressed the importance of government support for small businesses to ease the transition. 

Bragais, for her part, took steps to minimize waste in her milk tea shop by offering reusable eco-bags to regular customers for their purchases. 

Path to INC-5

“All of us rely on countries to continue pursuing legally binding measures within international law to ensure we agree on a treaty by the end of the year that addresses the full life cycle of plastics from extraction to disposal,” the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) said.

The United Nations member states will reconvene in November 2024 in Busan, South Korea for the fifth and final round of negotiations for a global plastic pact.