The new Circular Economy Action Plan promises to address plastic pollution but will concrete steps follow?

For immediate release – Brussels, 11 March 2020

New plans revealed today by the European Commission on plastic pollution, as part of its wider Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), which lists around 50 actions to tackle our resources and waste crises, are a step in the right direction but will only be effective if they are implemented with strong ambition. 

One of the most positive actions is the promise to develop new measures on making products more sustainable. The alliance welcomes this long-overdue legal framework, in particular the commitment to scale up reusable tableware, packaging and cutlery in food services. All the new laws on sustainable products should stimulate the redesign of products and distribution models and drive the transition towards toxic-free reusable products and service-based systems.

Prevention, reduction and reuse, despite being at the top of the EU waste hierarchy, have been overlooked for too long. We now welcome that they are rightly given priority for food services, but they must be at the core of all future concrete measures to foster the redesign of plastics and packaging, as well as their production and distribution systems. This is not only a condition for achieving a true, toxic-free circular economy, it is also necessary to deliver on the EU’s climate agenda” commented Justine Maillot, Policy Coordinator of the Rethink Plastic alliance. 

The alliance, however, remains cautious on the commitment by the European Commission to set a policy framework for biobased and biodegradable plastics. These plastics, which are too often pushed as a solution, are mostly applied as single-use materials with similar environmental impacts to conventional plastics, especially in the ocean.[1][2] Direct substitution of conventional plastics with bio-based and biodegradable plastics is purposefully confusing consumers and amounts to greenwashing.

While microplastics are highlighted as a focus area, it’s regretful that the action plan remains vague on the related concrete measures, going no further than the Plastics Strategy of early 2018. The alliance calls on the Commission to develop EU legislative measures to address pollution from all primary microplastics including pre-production plastic pellets, a major source of microplastics, along the plastic supply chain.[3]

The plan also highlights the role of economic instruments and investments, yet remains vague on detail. The alliance emphasises that these are essential to develop and scale-up solutions and must ensure support for new business models and systems based on prevention and reuse. The alliance is concerned that if investments are directed towards infrastructure for “new” plastic production as well as chemical recycling, this will simply extend business as usual into the future.



[1] Rethink Plastic Alliance Bioplastics Infographic 

[2] EC Research on Biodegradable, Oxodegradable and Compostable bags oberved in sea, air and soil

[3] A recent study shows that if best practices were put in place by producers, converters and transport companies across the supply chain, pellet loss could virtually be eliminated (95% reduction). Rethink Plastic and BreakFreeFromPlastic briefing on pellets available here

Press contacts

Justine Maillot, Policy Coordinator, Rethink Plastic alliance

[email protected] 

+32 (0) 27 362 091 

Agnese Marcon, Communications Coordinator, Rethink Plastic alliance [email protected]  

+32 (0) 456 078 038 

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. It is part of the Break Free From Plastic movement.

Loophole & delays undermine microplastics restriction

Brussels 14th November 2019


There are major concerns that proposed limitations to the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) restriction on intentionally added microplastics act as loopholes to satisfy industry, by delaying implementation and creating derogations for biodegradable plastics. Comments from the industry lobby in the ECHA public consultation on microplastics are aimed at undermining the core purpose of the restriction rather than contributing to meaningfully addressing the issue of microplastic pollution.


The latest European Chemicals Agency proposal to restrict all intentionally added microplastics has generally received strong support from NGOs across many sectors. In letters to national governments, 32 NGOs together with the #breakfreefromplastic movement of more than 1,800 organisations, and the Rethink Plastic alliance, reiterated this support, while raising major concerns on derogations and unnecessary delays in a letter addressed to national environment ministers and relevant agencies on Tuesday. They call on the Commission and Member States to address these concerns and move the restriction process forward without delays or derogations.


Once released in the environment, microplastics are practically impossible to remove, and are expected to be present in the environment for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years, with severe and well documented effects on the environment. The scientific data gathered by ECHA in the report backing the need for a restriction is unequivocal: microplastics constitute a serious risk to the environment, and are a source of pollution that is currently, and undeniably, out of control.


In particular proposed derogations for allegedly biodegradable microplastics and the extended transitional periods are highlighted as undermining the prevention of microplastic pollution, and lacking in scientific basis.


Elise Vitali, Chemicals Project Officer at the European Environmental Bureau said

“The restriction proposal is a big step forward. But if passed as it stands, this plan would seriously jeopardise the EU’s reputation as a leader in the fight against plastic pollution. It is a matter of urgency that these unjustifiable loopholes are closed, and that the restrictions are applied to all intentional microplastics in a concise timeframe.”


Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Coordinator of the #breakfreefromplastic movement in Europe and of the Rethink Plastic alliance said

“It is high time the industry stops bringing biodegradability claims to obtain exemptions and create loopholes in much needed restrictions, be it on single-use plastics or in this case on microplastics added to products. If it is even slightly serious about contributing to solving the plastic crisis, the industry should rather focus its efforts on redesigning and removing all intentionally added microplastics from Industry products”.



– Read the full letter sent to EU ENVI Committee members and REACH competent authorities
– Read NGOs Position For An Impactful Restriction Of Microplastics
ECHA Annex XV Restriction Report Proposal for a Restriction on Intentionally Added Microplastics


Press Contacts:

Matt Franklin
European Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic
[email protected] – +44 7923 37 38 31

Alice Bernard
Chemicals Lawyer, Client Earth
[email protected] – 0032 (0)2 808 8015

Plastic Atlas release demonstrates scale of plastic pollution crisis & solutions for a zero waste future

6 November 2019, Brussels

Today, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Break Free From Plastic movement published the international English edition of the Plastic Atlas, holding launch events in Brussels, Washington D.C. and Manila. 

05 Nov 2019 – Brussels, Belgium – Plastic Atlas 2019 Pre-Launch, organized by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

05 Nov 2019 – Brussels, Belgium – Plastic Atlas 2019 Pre-Launch, organized by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

05 Nov 2019 – Brussels, Belgium – Plastic Atlas 2019 Pre-Launch, organized by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

05 Nov 2019 – Brussels, Belgium – Plastic Atlas 2019 Pre-Launch, organized by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

05 Nov 2019 – Brussels, Belgium – Plastic Atlas 2019 Pre-Launch, organized by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

05 Nov 2019 – Brussels, Belgium – Plastic Atlas 2019 Pre-Launch, organized by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

The Plastic Atlas contains more than 49 detailed infographics covering a broad range of topics regarding the plastic pollution crisis looking along the entire value chain of plastic. The atlas highlights the scale of the crisis, and the global impacts of plastic production, consumption and disposal on other key global challenges such as human health and climate change.

It also outlines the role of plastic for key industrial sectors such as agriculture and tourism and describes the corporate interests and drivers behind the plastic crisis.

Finally, the Plastic Atlas presents an overview of key anti-plastic regulations, zero waste solutions and a snapshot of the growing global movement working towards a future free from plastic pollution.

Executive Vice-President-designate for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans stated: “The European Union has made an important first step by banning some of the most polluting single use plastic products in Europe. We now need to continue our efforts to design products for reuse, improve waste management and recycling, and move towards a zero-pollution economic model. Valuable resources must be retained and recycled material used for making new products, not shipped abroad or sent up in smoke through an incinerator.

Bas Eickhout, Vice-Chair of the EP-Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (The Greens/EFA) and co-host of the Plastic-Atlas launch pointed out: “This plastic atlas shows the painful reality behind our plastic addiction, and there is no excuse to wait with the implementation of policies to cure it. Let me name a few: Bans on needless use of plastic. Strict eco-design rules to ensure that we use as little plastic as possible in the products that we make. New legislation to prevent the leakage of plastic pellets in our environment. Mandatory use of recycled instead of virgin plastic. And of course: a plastic tax. It’s time to walk the walk.”

Break Free From Plastic European Coordinator, Delphine Lévi Alvarès added: “Europe plays a significant role in the plastic pollution crisis at almost every juncture. From the export of low-grade plastic waste to the global south, where Europe avoids taking responsibility for dealing with the waste that we create, to the European corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Unilever which are again and again cited as the top global producers of branded plastic pollution. Europe’s role in this crisis is ubiquitous. But Europe also has great potential to tackle plastic pollution at source, notably by enacting strong policies. This is the only way to achieve a circular economy and go above and beyond the Paris Agreement commitments.”

Heinrich Böll Foundation President Barbara Unmüßig has called for global action to address the crisis at source: “A ban on single-use plastics makes sense but will not be sufficient to end one of the biggest environmental crises of the planet. Plastics began as a waste product of the petrochemical industry. Today, ExxonMobil, BASF, Eni, INEOS, and Dow are the biggest plastic producers worldwide with sales totaling 420 billion Euros per year. Instead of cutting down on this part of the business they have clear targets to increase plastic production over the coming years. The unlimited availability of cheap oil and gas as raw materials for plastic production prevents effective recycling strategies and blocks a real circular economy. Regional and global politics must hold the plastic industry accountable and define a clear and strict framework for the reduction of overall plastic production and consumption. However, circular-economy strategies are needed to make a lasting impact.”

Download the full Plastic Atlas

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,800 organisations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organisations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation, as part of the Green political movement, is a catalyst for Green visions and projects, a think tank for policy reform, and an international network. We globally support and cooperate with partners promoting Democracy, human rights, socio-ecological transformation and gender justice.



Press Contacts
Agnese Marcon, Communications Coordinator, Rethink Plastic alliance
[email protected], +32 (0) 456 078 038

New report shows how EU countries can quit single-use plastics and switch to reusables 

Brussels, October 15 – Reusable alternatives to wasteful single-use plastics are on the rise across Europe, and national governments have the tools at their disposal to boost them and slash plastic pollution, according to a new report released today by Break Free From Plastic Europe and the Rethink Plastic alliance.


The Reusable solutions: how governments can help stop single-use plastic pollution report shows how a mixture of public and private initiatives are slashing the consumption of single-use plastic packaging and products across Europe. They include:


  • The reusable cup scheme ‘ReCup’ is used by almost 3,000 vendors in over 450 cities in Germany. Citizens pay a €1 deposit per cup, which is refunded when they are returned to a vendor. Half a million of these cups are in circulation, and each can be reused up to 500 times.
  • 1.5 tonnes of food packaging waste are saved per year in Brussels, where more than 1,000 members use “Tiffin” reusable steel takeaway boxes. This also saves €20,000 in the purchase of disposable containers.
  • Deposit return schemes for reuse can work: in Germany’s system 99% of reusable glass bottles are returned, meaning they are cleaned and refilled up to 50 times.

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe and co-author of the report, said “If governments switched to reusable products instead of wasteful single-use plastics, they would slash plastic pollution, save local authorities money for collection and waste cleanup, and create local jobs.”


Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe and co-author of the report said: “Benefits of reuse systems are countless, yet such zero waste business models encounter many challenges to get their way through the current market dominated by single-use. Policy intervention is key to allowing such positive change to be rolled out across the EU and become the norm.”


The report calls on national governments to scale up these successes across Europe by building on the EU’s single-use plastics laws, including by:

  • – Passing laws to oblige restaurants to use reusable cutlery, plates and cups for onsite consumption
  • – Setting consumption reduction targets for single-use plastic cups and food containers of 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030
  • – Introducing deposit return scheme (DRS) policies for reusable items including beverage bottles, cups and food containers
  • – Taxing single-use plastics to quickly force businesses to find alternatives



[1] Full report here: “Reusable solutions: how governments can help stop single-use plastic pollution”



For more information, please contact: 

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, [email protected] |  +32 (0) 2 893 1016

Paul Hallows, communications officer at Friends of the Earth Europe, [email protected] | +32 2 893 10 10

EU court confirms plastics chemical BPA as substance of ‘very high concern’

Luxembourg, Thursday 11th July 2019


The General Court of the EU has confirmed that bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical used to make plastics – must be listed as a substance of ‘very high concern’ on account of its properties that are toxic for human reproduction.


The Court upheld a previous decision by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to identify the substance, which has been used in the manufacture of plastic products such as water bottles, food containers and receipts. BPA is already banned in the EU for some products – such as baby bottles – due to concerns about its effects on the hormonal and reproductive system.


ClientEarth intervened before the Court to support ECHA’s decision to officially identify Bisphenol A as a substance toxic for reproduction, and therefore of high concern.


Apolline Roger, Legal and Policy Advisor at ClientEarth said: “This case was not about whether bisphenol A is toxic for reproduction or not – there is no doubt about the dangers this substance poses for humans and the environment”.


This case was about industry lobby group PlasticsEurope attempting to fight the obligation of its members that sell or use BPA to tell their supply chain and consumers about its dangers.We are glad that the Court reminded them that information is a precondition to environmental and health protection, even for substances like BPA, that are used and supposed to be fully consumed in the production process.


PlasticsEurope also challenged before the Court the identification of bisphenol A as an endocrine disruptor with impact on health in a second legal case, and with impact on the environment in a third case.


The judgement of the second case is expected in mid-September. The hearing for the third is excepted to be around October. In all three cases, ClientEarth acted as intervener – supporting the defendant in its defence against PlasticsEurope’s challenge before the EU Courts.





Apolline Roger, Chemicals Project Lead, Law and Policy Advisor, ClientEarth

t. +32 (0) 28 08 3471 | [email protected]



EU’s move to ban microplastics under attack from chemicals industry

Brussels, 3 June 2019 – The recent European move to reduce microplastics is facing attack by the chemicals industry.

The Rethink Plastic alliance supports the European Chemical Agency (ECHA)’s proposal to restrict microplastics intentionally added to cosmetics, paints, detergents, medical devices and other products. As expert committees are meeting tomorrow to discuss the draft restriction, RPa members will be following these discussions closely, and contributing with the help of a scientific expert at the meeting.

According to ECHA, every year, 10,000 to 60,000 tonnes of intentionally added microplastics leak into the environment, where they accumulate and persist for thousands of years, posing a threat to a wide range of organisms including invertebrates, fish, marine reptiles, birds and cetaceans.

Despite the breadth of the environmental disaster caused by microplastics, the biggest chemical industry lobby in Brussels, CEFIC, has deemed this proposal as “too broad”, claiming ECHA had exceeded its competence in drafting it.

On behalf of Rethink Plastic, ClientEarth’s lawyer Lara Fornabaio said: “ECHA concluded, on the basis of a thorough scientific assessment, that the risks derived from the release of microplastics into the environment are not adequately controlled and this justifies a restriction under REACH.”

Taking part in a public consultation – which will continue till September – NGOs have submitted their comments, supporting the scope of the proposal, while suggesting ways to improve the effectiveness of the restriction. NGOs have presented further evidence on the adverse effects of microplastic occurrence in the environment, and have warned that this proposal is granting unnecessary delays for most industrial sectors.

Fornabaio added: “This restriction proposal is a significant step forward to address plastic pollution and it should be broadly supported. We call on companies, which have chosen to invest in alternatives to microplastics, to participate to the public consultation, providing evidence that the shift towards safer alternatives is already possible.

We also call on other organisations to submit their comments. Together, we must create a strong front against every attempt to undermine this proposal.”

Once the opinion of the scientific committees of ECHA is adopted early 2020, the file will go back to the Commission, who will have to propose the final text of the restriction to EU governments before the restriction can finally become the law.



Lara Fornabaio, Chemicals, Law and Policy Advisor, ClientEarth

+32 28 08 3471  |  [email protected]

Roberta Arbinolo, Communications Coordinator, Rethink Plastic alliance

+32 2 736 20 91  |  [email protected]

UN decide to control global plastic waste dumping


MAY 10, 2019

Geneva, Switzerland — Today, 187 countries took a major step forward in curbing the plastic waste crisis by adding plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another. The amendments require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste, providing an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.

After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle. Norway’s proposed amendments to the Basel Convention provides countries the right to refuse unwanted or unmanageable plastic waste.

The decision reflects a growing recognition around the world of the toxic impacts of plastic and the plastic waste trade. The majority of countries expressed their support for the proposal and over one million people globally signed two public petitions from Avaaz and SumOfUs. Yet even amidst this overwhelming support, there were a few vocal outliers who opposed listing plastic under Annex II of the Basel Convention. These included the United States, the largest exporter of plastic waste in the world; the American Chemistry Council, a prominent petrochemical industry lobbying group; and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a business association largely comprised of waste brokers. As the United States is not a party to the Basel Convention, it will be banned from trading plastic waste with developing countries that are Basel Parties but not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

David Azoulay, Environmental Health Director, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL): “Today’s decision demonstrates that countries are finally catching up with the urgency and magnitude of the plastic pollution issue and shows what ambitious international leadership looks like. Plastic pollution in general and plastic waste in particular remain a major threat to people and the planet, but we are encouraged by the decision of the Basel Convention as we look to the future bold decisions that will be needed to tackle plastic pollution at its roots, starting with reducing production.”
Contact: David Azoulay, +41 78 75 78 756, [email protected]

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free from Plastic: “This is a crucial first step towards stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations. Countries at the receiving end of mixed and unsorted plastic waste from foreign sources now have the right to refuse these problematic shipments, in turn compelling source countries to ensure exports of clean, recyclable plastics only. Recycling will not be enough, however.  Ultimately, production of plastics has to be significantly curtailed to effectively resolve the plastic pollution crisis.”
Contact: Von Hernandez, +63 9175263050, vonhernandez (Skype)

Martin Bourque, Executive Director, Ecology Center: “Recycling is supposed to be part of the solution, this legislation will help prevent it from being a source of pollution. False claims by the plastic industry about plastic recycling resulted in a complete disaster for communities and ecosystems around the globe. This legislation raises the bar for plastic recycling which is good for people and the planet, and will help restore consumer confidence that recycling is still the right thing to do.”
Contact: Martin Bourque, [email protected]

Mageswari Sangaralingam, Research Officer, Friends of the Earth Malaysia: “Controls on the plastic waste trade are much needed now to curb dumping of waste in the Global South. The inclusion of prior informed consent is a step towards addressing the issues of the plastic waste trade and pollution crisis. Recycling is not enough, we need to break free from plastic.”
Contact: Mageswari Sangaralingam, +60128782706, [email protected]

Dr Tadesse Amera, CoChair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) (Ethiopia): “Africa knows a lot about waste dumping due to our experience with e-waste. This decision will help prevent the continent from becoming the next target of plastic waste dumping after Asia closes its doors.”
Contact: Tadesse Amera, +251911243030 (phone/whatsapp), [email protected]

Prigi Arisandi, Founder, Ecoton (Indonesia): “We hope these Convention amendments will reduce marine litter — but on the ground in Indonesia we will continue monitoring the waste trade, and pushing our government to properly manage imported plastics. We call on exporting countries to respect their obligation not to dump their rubbish in Global South countries and our government to strictly enforce restrictions and strengthen our custom controls.”
Contact: Prigi Arisandi, +62 8175033042, [email protected]

Yuyun Ismawati, Co-founder, BaliFokus/Nexus3 Foundation: “This amendment could be a game changer and force every country to set a higher standard of responsible plastic waste management. Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities.”
Contact: Yuyun Ismawati, +447583768707, [email protected]

Sirine Rached, Global Policy Advocate, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA): “It’s only fair that countries should have the right to refuse plastic pollution shipped to their borders. China had raised the ambition, arguing for countries to have the right to refuse virtually all plastic waste imports, but the final result was a compromise. Since the onslaught of plastic dumping will continue for a year until the measures come into effect, GAIA calls on countries to protect themselves from global plastic waste dumping by banning dirty plastic imports in national law. Countries can tackle the plastic pollution problem while protecting the climate, by focusing on reducing plastics and shifting to Zero Waste systems free from dirty technologies like incineration or plastic-to-fuel.”
Contact: Sirine Rached, +33 6 76 90 02 80, [email protected]

Jim Puckett, Executive Director, Basel Action Network (BAN): “Today we have taken a major first step to stem the tide of plastic waste now flowing from the rich developed countries to developing countries in Africa and Asia, all in the name of “recycling,” but causing massive and harmful pollution, both on land and in the sea. A true circular economy was never meant to circulate pollution around the globe. It can only be achieved by eliminating negative externalities and not just pushing them off to developing countries.”
Contact: Jim Puckett, [email protected]

Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA): “The Basel amendments are a critical pillar of an emerging global architecture to address plastic pollution. Other international bodies must now do their part, including ambitious measures under the IMO and ultimately a new legally binding UN treaty. The EU was a vocal and active supporter of the Basel amendments, proposing to increase ambition so that only the cleanest of clean plastic waste would not be subject to notification. The EU is not only leading by example but taking its Plastics Strategy to the international level.”
Contact: Tim Grabiel, +33 6 32 76 77 04, [email protected]

EU: Plastic’s toxic chemicals to be recycled into new generations of consumer products

Strasbourg, 18 April 2019 – Today, the European Parliament approved the recast of the EU Regulation on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) [1]. This update to the regulation on the world’s worst chemicals will in practice allow toxic flame retardants, including DecaBDE, to be recycled into new plastic products, re-entering the market in concentrations far above safe levels and endangering human health and the environment.

The recast of Regulation (EC) No 850/2004 contradicts the EU’s obligations under the Stockholm Convention [2], an international treaty that requires parties to eliminate or restrict the use of persistent organic pollutants — chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods of time and harm human health and the environment. The Convention lists DecaBDE for global elimination, without any recycling exemption. The EU concentration limits [3] pave the way for a massive inflow of DecaBDE from discarded electronics into recycled plastic products, including children’s toys. [4]

While we welcome efforts to move to a circular economy, a toxic chemical does not become less toxic when it is recycled. For the circular economy to be a success, extreme caution must be taken to ensure it does not come at the expense of human health and the environment,” says Giulia Carlini, staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), on behalf of Rethink Plastic. “The chemicals listed in the Stockholm Convention are the world’s worst chemicals. DecaBDE is one of them, and we must eliminate it from our products. The updated regulation opens the door to much wider human and environmental contamination by this dangerous pollutant.

Rethink Plastic, an alliance of European NGOs fighting for a future free from plastic pollution, warns that people will be exposed to contamination without being aware, as products containing recycled DecaBDE will not necessarily be labeled disclosing their toxic components and related risks. “This is particularly dangerous as DecaBDE may likely end up in products for children, a population that is especially vulnerable to the toxic impacts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” continues Carlini.

Rethink Plastic urges the European Commission to review the concentration limits within the regulation as quickly as possible, and to stop dangerous pollutants from contaminating our products, notably through toxic recycling.



[1] Link to the approved document:

[2] Link to the Stockholm convention:

[3] 500 mg/kg for the sum of the listed PBDEs (tetra-, penta-, hexa-, hepta, and decaBDE) as an unintentional trace contaminant level in mixtures and articles, and 1000 mg/kg for the sum of the listed PBDEs in waste. DecaBDE alone has a 10 mg/kg limit, as well as the other single PBDEs, and Rethink Plastic advocates for a much more protective 50 mg/kg for the sum of listed PBDEs, both in mixtures, articles, and waste.

[4] Toxic recycling is still contaminating EU products, including children’s toys, hair accessories, and kitchen utensils, as shown in the report “Toxic Loophole: Recycling Hazardous Waste into New Products.”


Giulia Carlini, Staff Attorney, CIEL
+41 22 321 47 74 | [email protected]

Marie Mekosh, Communications Associate, CIEL
+001 202 742 5847 | [email protected]

Tyranny of the minority slows international progress on addressing plastic pollution

Nairobi, Kenya, 15 March 2019 – At the 4th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), member states of the UN Environment Programme failed to meet expectations to confront the ever-growing plastic-pollution crisis threatening our waterways, ecosystems, and health.

At UNEA-4, member states considered several resolutions designed to increase international action to halt plastic pollution. The first, proposed by Norway, Japan, and Sri Lanka, sought to strengthen international cooperation and coordination on marine plastic litter and microplastics, including through considering a possible new legally binding agreement. The second, proposed by India, sought to promote the phase-out single-use plastics worldwide.

Despite sweeping agreement by the majority of countries that urgent, ambitious, and global action is needed to address plastic across its lifecycle – from production to use to disposal – a small minority led by the United States (US) blocked ambitious text and delayed negotiations. Backed by a strong industry lobby with over $200 billion invested in petrochemical buildout to drastically expand plastic production, the US delegation was able to thwart progress and water down the resolutions, actions that were strongly opposed by many countries, including those most affected by plastic pollution, such as the Pacific Island States, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Senegal. Action-oriented member states did secure, however, the basic elements that will allow the building of future actions, based on the common vision that emerged among the vast majority of countries during the discussions. Most importantly, the mandate of the expert working group established at UNEA-3 was extended to continue its work, including by identifying technical and financial resources or mechanisms, and to report on its progress in considering response options at UNEA-5 in February 2021. The extension of this mandate keeps plastic on the international agenda and provides an opportunity to consider a future legally binding agreement.

Despite the overall disappointing outcome in not making progress at the speed and scale needed, countries remain committed to pursuing international cooperation and coordination to address the plastic-pollution crisis.

David Azoulay, Environmental Health Director, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL): “At UNEA-4, the vast majority of countries came together to develop a vision for the future of global plastic governance. Seeing the US, guided by the interests of the fracking and petrochemical industry, leading efforts to sabotage that vision is disheartening. But the growing appetite for better global plastic governance is evident, and this UNEA ensured the continuation of a process on which countries can build the future global framework to stop plastic pollution”

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic: “Corporations should hear the call coming out of UNEA-4: Requirements for reduction are coming. They should support community zero-waste systems around the world by reducing the production of unmanageable waste and reinventing delivery structures for products to eliminate plastic packaging. We have a lot of collaborative work to do in the coming years to create policies and markets that are healthy, responsive to local needs, and based on systems of refill and reuse.”

Christopher Chin, Executive Director of The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE): “Waste management is an important part of the conversation, but it cannot effectively address the deluge of plastic pollution we all face. We cannot recycle our way out of this problem. While we are certainly disappointed that progress was stifled by industry-embracing obstacles imposed by a distinct few member states, we are encouraged by the otherwise near-universal support for forward action towards upstream solutions and discussions towards solutions considering the full lifecycle of plastics, including a potential new legally binding framework.”

Fabienne McLellan, Director International Relations, OceanCare: “One cannot help but note that we are heading for yet another failure by some governments to take real action due to nationalistic agendas. The problem is easy to understand, there is enough data, but the blockade of a few, powerful countries isn’t. We are leaving UNEA-4 without a strong decision and are sending a weak signal to the private sector. This is troubling as there should be clear guidance from international bodies towards a sustainable circular economy, a full lifecycle approach, and a call for a global governance architecture.”

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Zero Waste Europe: “The need to confront marine plastic pollution and single-use plastics are undeniably at the top of the global policy agenda, and Zero Waste initiatives at the local level have received recognition. The details of the final resolutions may be weak, but governments have real policy examples to follow, including the recently-adopted EU Directive on single-use plastics and bans on wasteful plastic products at the local and national level. These policies address the production and consumption drivers of plastic pollution. We salute the efforts of the countries and regions who stood strong in this debate in seeking equally ambitious action at the global level.”

Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA):“Future generations will confront many indescribable problems due to a lack of political will to tackle head on the environmental issues of our time. We do not need to add plastic pollution to that list. Although we regret the lack of urgency displayed by a few bad-faith actors, we are encouraged that the expert group will be reconvened and expect progressive countries to use it as a launch pad for meaningful action at the next UNEA in February 2021.”

Tadesse Amera, CoChair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), Ethiopia: “As the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries are gearing up to escalate plastic and chemical production, governments at UNEA-4 could not curb the power of these private interests. This is concerning as the volume of plastic pollution will grow too. Plastics are toxic. Toxic chemicals -linked to cancer and early puberty in children- are used to make plastics, yet this issue was neglected in the final UNEA-4 outcome. These toxic chemicals additives in plastic are released later, creating toxic liabilities for chemical and plastic producers. In Africa, imported plastic products and plastic waste should be returned back to the producers to protect us from the toxic chemicals in the plastic materials. The industries producing these harmful chemicals should have an extended producer responsibility, and they should pay the costs related to their toxic plastic waste mess. In the big picture, toxics in means toxics out. We can’t recycle toxic plastics and pretend that the marine litter chaos is a waste issues; it’s a toxic product issue.”

Jane Patton, Director, No Waste Louisiana: “Plastic is pollution the minute it is made. We must reduce the production and use of plastic across the board to protect communities and health. No people or places should be sacrificed to corporate profit or a culture of consumption, and we can avoid that by taking into account the full lifecycle impacts of plastics. We are optimistic about the ambitious steps our governments will take to prevent plastic pollution, including production reduction, phase out, and investment in zero-waste systems.”

David Sutasurya, Indonesian Zero Waste Alliance: “The plastic industry is polluting developing countries, where they have fewer options of non-plastic alternatives and are directly exposed to plastic pollution every day. Multinational corporations have systematically pushed out local industry that uses much less plastic, in addition to facilitating the import of waste into developing countries from the high-consumption Global North. It is unfair that developing countries are using taxpayers’ money to manage these wastes that can neither be recycled or composted. Framing marine litter as only a waste management problem is nonsense when it’s actually a reflection of the industry’s refusal to take responsibility on the plastic pollution crisis. Multinational companies, together with national plastic industries, are now actively blocking any government effort to hold them accountable and responsible for the waste of their product, including significant reduction of its uses. Developed countries and industries have to be responsible for the waste problem that they create in developing countries and should support legally binding measures on reduction of global plastic production and consumption.”


Media Inquiries:

Amanda Kistler, (Nairobi) WhatsApp +1 339 225 1623, [email protected]

Jane Patton, (Nairobi) WhatsApp +1 (225) 266-5534, [email protected]

Jed Alegado, (Philippines) WhatsApp +63 917 607 0248, [email protected]

Background for editors:

Plastics have in been on the international policy agenda since UNEA-1, At UNEA-4, member states considered and approved four resolutions that either directly considered or referred to the global plastic crisis, especially in the form of marine litter. The preparation documents for UNEA-3 in December 2017 made clear that there are major gaps in the existing legal frameworks surrounding marine plastic litter, which have facilitated the growing crisis. Many countries and the UNEP Secretariat analyzed the failure of voluntary measures to meaningfully stop plastic pollution or marine litter in the long-term. Coming out of UNEA-3, states took a significant step to address those gaps by creating an Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group to more clearly consider the state of knowledge, gaps, and mechanisms for addressing the marine plastic litter issue. Between UNEA-3 and UNEA-4, the Expert Group created a summary of options for monitoring and for international governance to prevent and solve marine plastic litter. The Expert Group did not make recommendations for action to UNEA-4, however, as that was no included in its mandate.

At UNEA-4, the four resolutions adopted by consensus on Friday, March 15 were as follows. Largely across the board, the resolutions are missing any calls for production reduction of plastics or other chemical materials, and they largely focus on the waste management end of the problem. This ignores the significant role the plastics producers and the consumer goods corporations will be required to play in preventing plastic pollution and marine litter.

  • Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastics (a consolidated draft co-authored by Norway, Japan, and Sri Lanka): this was the main resolution proposing the creation of a Working Group to discuss options for action, including the creation of an international legally binding treaty with goals for both production reduction, policy change, and behavior change. Details on the scope of work, terms of reference, and meeting dates for this continued Expert Group are still lacking and will be determined by the UNEP Secretariat.
  • Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics Products (submitted by India): In a last-minute resolution submission, India took a bold step by proposing their planned national complete phase-out of single-use plastics by 2025 to become part of the international agenda. Chair put forward a significantly weakened compromise text that merely encouraged national action to address marine plastic litter, rather than the use and production of the plastic products themselves.
  • Environmentally Sound Management of Waste (submitted by League of Arab States): While again weakened from its original language, the adopted resolution calls on Member States to implement integrated waste management schemes, including zero waste, movement toward a circular economy, and minimization of packaging. As the resolution calls for significant investment and sharing of technology around waste management, there is concern that countries will adopt toxic and inefficient incineration (or waste-to-energy) schemes rather than taking preventative steps toward waste reduction.
  • Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste (submitted by the EU): This resolution mostly focused on strengthening international coordination on management of toxic chemicals (including Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and other agreements). The resolution reiterated the need for a minimization of plastic packaging as a preventative measure and called for action on eliminating planned obsolescence of technology products, which often contain a significant amount of plastic.