The need for local dialogues between key stakeholders to ensure an effective plastics treaty
Have you ever tried to act on plastic pollution in your house, in your neighborhood or in your company? Was it a one-shot activity, or a continuous process? Were there challenges too big for you to overcome because the problem was outside of your control? This is where we, as citizens, expect our local and national governments to support us with policies and other measures to help solve this problem. But that is easier said than done. Where do they get their information from?
Now imagine 193 UN member countries trying to solve the complex puzzle of plastic pollution globally. Conscience about it has been growing for a few years now but governments are still scrambling to deal with waste generation and plastic pollution. In 2022, the UN finally adopted its resolution to end plastic pollution. This historical moment was celebrated by many, but we also know that a long and complex road is still ahead.
What remains unclear at this stage is how and what each country is doing to prepare itself for this process. Though one may expect the negotiators to be plastic pollution experts, we know plastic pollution is complex with varying challenges, stakeholders and understandings at all levels – local, national, regional and global.
With the implementation of our film-activism model and our BlueCommunities program, we’ve been able to work with local communities around the world, generating a bottom-up feedback loop back to policy and decision-makers. Through formal and informal dialogues with local environmental leaders and other stakeholders, we’ve been able to better understand the many knowledge gaps and implementation barriers they face when trying to solve plastic pollution. At public events, expert panels and workgroups we´ve managed to amplify those voices on regional and national levels and share local experiences, so they’re taken into account by decision-makers.
In 2022 Plastic Oceans International took it one step further by organizing national dialogues about the plastics treaty in Chile. The aim of those dialogues was to provide the lead negotiators with an overview of ideas, ambitions, fears and challenges observed by civil society. In two sessions more than 80 stakeholders came together and exchanged thoughts about what a plastics treaty should look like. Led by trained facilitators and separated in break-out rooms, these NGO´s, business leaders, scientists, representatives from consumers, the informal waste sector and public servants held constructive dialogues about a global instrument to reduce plastic pollution by taking into account local realities.
Dialogues around the globe
Around the same time other multi-stakeholder dialogues were held in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Ghana, Flanders, Geneva, USA and the UK. Of only a few of these we were able to find reports, and of even fewer we found follow-up activities to keep the momentum going. The most interesting initiative that we found were the dialogues held by the Mexican ministry of foreign affairs in 2023, with support from UN Mexico. Eight multi-stakeholder (local) dialogues were held in 5 different regions, between INC-2 and INC-3, and their report just came out. With Mexico and the UK being the exceptions, most of the other dialogues were one of a kind and weren’t continued over time due to a lack of funding, lack of time or lack of priority
Instead of generating networks of local stakeholders that work together to change the system based on local expertise, ideas and initiatives, everyone seems to have gone back to solving the problem in silos. This is a problem, as we believe that only through continued dialogues and information exchanges we can truly understand how plastic pollution is affecting communities and how we should effectively solve it.
Involving local voices in dialogues is a challenge, but it’s essential. Effective policy implementation depends on local execution because that’s where laws are being enforced and people are being trained and educated. During our many local dialogues we’ve been able to gather these experiences and learn more about this fragmented landscape of initiatives and policies that should be interconnected but aren’t. In some cases, they even contradict each other. Local stakeholders do the best they can with little or no budget nor manpower, while big companies are focused on voluntary actions with no accountability.
We know that cleaning up beaches and recycling are not the sole solutions, but it’s the best many of these local stakeholders can do for now. It’s time for policies to support this important local work and incorporate it as part of a national circular approach that addresses the lifecycle of plastic and not just the end. More formal instances should exist where local challenges and barriers are addressed and noted, so that decision-makers are well informed when they roll out new laws. In the case of treaty negotiators it will help them to put more emphasis on making sure the treaty will take into account the challenges with local implementation of policies.
What it means for the treaty negotiations
Everything that is being discussed at the negotiations for a global plastics treaty and the actions the treaty will generate in the future, will depend on effective local action. All stakeholders should know their role in a global circular economy and collaborate throughout the entire lifecycle of plastics. If we keep considering local stakeholders only as end-of-life waste managers and beach cleaners, we won’t make a dent in the plastic pollution crisis.
Plastic Oceans encourages country delegates to keep organizing dialogues with national and local stakeholders, before and after each INC, and not just plan informative sessions about where we’re in the INC process. Let’s make sure all stakeholders are actively involved in a well-organized information exchange from a local to a national scale, and vice versa. We cannot leave this invaluable source of information and experiences untapped, not now nor in the near future, if we truly want to solve the plastic pollution crisis.
Find more resources and learn more about the past and upcoming negotiations for a global treaty to end plastic pollution HERE.
Mark Minneboo is the Director of Advocacy at Plastic Oceans International and has been participating in global dialogues on the plastics treaty since 2021 and has organized Chile’s national dialogues in 2022. He participated both in INC-1 and INC-2.