Washington — The American Chemistry Council wants to keep the next round of global plastics treaty talks focused on waste in the environment and push back against the agreement including caps on virgin resin production, ACC leaders told reporters Feb. 7.
ACC CEO and President Chris Jahn and senior members of its board used a press briefing during leadership meetings in Washington to outline their priorities for the upcoming round of talks, in Canada in April.
More than halfway through the negotiations, the scope of a final treaty remains hotly contested, with some countries pushing for caps on virgin production and lists of problematic plastic products and toxic additives that should be phased out.
Those disagreements meant the last session in Kenya in November ended in a stalemate, adding pressure on the upcoming round in late April in Ottawa, Ontario, to make more progress.
Karen McKee, the immediate past chair of ACC's board and a participant in the talks, said the treaty should focus on plastics waste in the environment, rather than reducing resin production.
"We all share the concern on plastics waste in the environment, and [we want] to engage and make sure that whatever global treaty gets formed actually makes progress on that issue and stays centered on that," said McKee, who is president of ExxonMobil Product Solutions. "This treaty was supposed to focus on plastic waste in the environment.
"We need a treaty that will drive circularity, that will continue with the benefits of plastic to society," she said. "But we do want to make substantive progress on the issue of plastic waste in the environment. We're concerned about some countries who are advocating for restrictions on plastic production within the auspices of the treaty."
McKee is also president of the International Council of Chemical Associations, an umbrella group that includes ACC and similar groups worldwide.
ACC's Jahn echoed McKee, saying that the industry believes the United Nations Environment Assembly resolutions that launched the treaty talks in 2022 intended for the agreement to focus on plastic environmental waste.
"The remit from UNEA was to address the issue of plastics in the environment," Jahn said. "If we continue to focus 'eyes on the prize' there, and we're serious about solving that problem, then we can get there.
"That's what our focus in Ottawa is going to be, [on] here's what a good agreement from our perspective looks like, and we're going to be very aggressive in talking to everybody who is willing to listen," Jahn said.
At one point, McKee said "much of the leakage of plastic waste into the environment is in the developing world where they do not have access to even the basic tenets of waste management," but at another point she said the United States also needs to do much more with plastics recycling.
"We should have ambition to be much better at recycling here," she said.
McKee suggested industry negotiators would continue to advocate for both mechanical recycling and chemical recycling, calling the latter a "critical part of the solution."
"We feel [chemical recycling] is a really important part of the toolkit that we should be able to bring to bear," McKee said. "It's disappointing that there are detractors from this choice of recycling that enables us to recycle more forms of plastic."
She said if the treaty limited plastic production, it could limit society's ability to address climate change.
"I'd be deeply concerned if we had to go back from plastics, which is the material of choice because of its utility, to other forms of material," McKee said, noting that the typical car is more than 50 percent plastic, by volume, which leads to lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
While ACC officials said they want the treaty to focus on waste issues, the talks have elevated other concerns, including health risks from potentially toxic additives in plastic and helping so-called "waste pickers" working in the informal recycling sector.
After the first round of talks in late 2022, environmental groups said that initial meeting showed that countries were very interested in including chemical health risks in the treaty. ICCA came out of that meeting pledging more public information around additives
McKee, who has attended negotiating sessions, said her thinking has evolved.
"I've learned that we need to be more transparent in terms of additives," she said, pointing to industry work to develop a public database.
"I would say that I came into the treaty with the view that additives should be regulated as chemicals, which they are, and I still have that view," McKee said. "However, I've realized that the plastics community and those who are negotiating the treaty would appreciate transparency on those chemicals."