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UN INC-3: Street protests mark start of Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Kenya

#UN INC-3: Street protests mark start of Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Kenya

13 Nov 2023 — The third round of negotiations (INC-3) for the UN’s legally binding Global Plastics Treaty begins today in Nairobi, Kenya, with protestors having hit the streets on Saturday ahead of the arrival of world leaders, business moguls and industry associations. 

The protestors, organized by the Break Free From Plastic movement, together with dozens of climate groups — including youth, civic society and other leaders — marched through the capital demanding a drastic reduction in plastic production and an end to pollution through stringent international legislation. 

Nairobi produces an average of 2,400 tons of waste per day, 30% of which is plastic, according to Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority. Much of this waste ends up in the Nairobi River, which Greenpeace says is heavily toxically contaminated. 

The protestors also used the opportunity to highlight and oppose “waste colonialism,” by which Western countries dump packaging and textile waste in Africa and other poorer regions. 

Demands for the advancement of waste pickers rights, for which 19 UN states formerly recognized representatives of 56 million informal workers at INC-1, were also made. 

Protestors in Nairobi, Kenya, ahead of the INC-3.The previous round of negotiations, held in Paris, France (May 29–June 2), ended largely in frustration as disputes over procedural rules, like the right to veto powers, prevented negotiations from beginning for three days. Environmentalists accused the plastic industry of stonewalling the debates. 

Waste pickers rights 
Emphasizing the link between economic equity and environmental protection, campaigners say formalization and just payment must be granted to waste pickers not only in Kenya but throughout the world, for which many countries rely as a pillar of waste management. 

John Chweya, Kenya National Waste Pickers Welfare Association lead, says: “Kenya is home to almost 50,000 waste pickers. Welcoming the third negotiation committee for the global plastics treaty on our land needs to go hand in hand with the recognition of the role of our community in fighting plastic pollution.” 

“This process will only be successful if toxic chemicals and polymers that are harming our health are eliminated, and the system rethought to center traditional and people-led solutions.”

Last week, Wigeo (women in informal employment globalizing and organizing) released a statement on the impact climate change is already having on waste pickers’ lives and livelihoods in Brazil. 

The organization’s research shows that 91% of waste pickers experienced at least one climate-change-related event in the past year, with 85% experiencing abnormal heat or heat waves and 39% reported being exposed to flash flooding. Further, 30% reported they had not received any type of support from the government, civil society or the private sector to help cope with climate events.

Reducing production?
Currently, two central international coalitions are vying for different forms of instrumentation, with the Europe-centered “High Ambition Coalition” calling for stricter policies enforced worldwide and a US-centered coalition driving for more national freedom on implementation, such as with the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Last week, the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) and Plastics Europe Germany (PED) called for a focus on developing novel recycling technologies and increasing non-fossil-based plastics through the nascent bioplastics industry at the negotiations. Waste pickers are now formerly recognized at the negotiations.

Alexander Kronimus, managing director for Climate & Circularity at Plastics Europe Germany, said establishing “strong market incentives to increase private investments in these technologies” should be prioritized above reducing plastics production. 

However, Niven Reddy, a Break Free From Plastic Africa coordinator, says, “most carbon emissions from plastics are from production processes and extraction of fossil fuels used in 99% of plastics, thus exacerbating the climate crisis.” 

“Any potential solutions to address plastic pollution will be ineffective without reduction targets and measures covering the entire life cycle of plastics.” 

“The plastic crisis hasn’t just suddenly appeared out of thin air — for decades, it has been consciously orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations who profit from the existence of this crisis.” 

Waste colonialism 
The term “waste colonialism” is used to describe the practice of wealthier nations, largely in the West, profiting from waste exportation to more vulnerable nations that lack proper infrastructure but nonetheless require the profits the industry provides. 

Ahead of the INC-3, The Break Free From Plastic movement, Rethink Plastic alliance, Environmental Investigation Agency, Eko and WeMove raised 180,000 signatures on a petition urging the EU to implement a comprehensive ban on plastic waste exports to both non-OECD and OECD countries. 

“As eyes are now on Nairobi for the next step in the plastics treaty journey, young people and allies from around the world are coming together to call out the unjust practices of waste colonialism that is consuming our communities in the global south, while calling on policymakers to tackle this issue at its source,” says Reddy.

By Louis Gore-Langton

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