Advancing global plastic governance: Scoping study on an international treaty


Plastic production is constantly increasing. Many of the positive qualities of synthetic materials – their long durability, flexible application, and low price – lead to them being used in more and more areas. Global plastic production generates around 750 billion U.S. dollar in turnover every year. In 2014, plastic production was at 311 billion tonnes, a quantity set to triple by 2050. The downside of plastic’s durability is that it decomposes very slowly, which leads to plastic waste accumulating in the environment, including in the oceans in ever greater quantities. Once there, it breaks apart into smaller and smaller particles. This micro-plastic endangers sea life, winds up in the food chain, and in this way eventually ends up in people’s food.

Although public awareness of the problem has grown in recent years, international efforts to limit plastic pollution thus far seem to have failed to bear fruit. Most approaches have concentrated on the oceans, although the majority of plastic waste doesn’t originate there. Activities on land have so far mostly been undertaken on a voluntary basis, in the form of multi-stakeholder partnerships, for example. And most internationally binding treaties that could potentially be used to address the problem are, in their current forms, not responsible for plastic.

adelphi conducted a study on behalf of the Heinrich Böll Foundation that addresses the topic of plastic governance and analysed what forms multilateral solutions could take. The study highlighted what international regulatory mechanisms are available, which aspects of the problem these address, and which aspects they have thus far failed to impact upon. This was used as a basis for recommendations on how to fill the existing gaps. Under special consideration was the question of whether a new multi-lateral environmental treaty specifically covering plastic should be negotiated, and what that could look like.

Publications of this project