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Day 1: UN Plastics Pollution Treaty Negotiations

ASH’s Policy Director Chris Bostic is attending the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Conference (INC-1) of the United Nations treaty to end plastics pollution in Punta del Este, Uruguay from November 28 – December 3, 2022. He will share updates and progress here for our community to stay engaged and informed.

November 28, 2022 – Greetings from Punta del Este. Today is an historic day in the history of environmental protection. At 10:00am local time, the first round of negotiations for the global plastics pollution treaty got under way. Whether it was a good day or a bad is to be determined. That goes for the effort as a whole and for ASH’s particular interest – cigarette filters.

A reminder on why filters are so important to our work. Filters (or butts, after they are “used”) are the number one source of litter worldwide; 4.5 trillion (not a typo) are tossed away annually. Filters make cigarettes more, not less, dangerous. And 98% of people who smoke use filtered cigarettes. By design, they make it easier to start and to keep smoking. If cigarette filters were removed, many people would be able to quit smoking, and far fewer children would start. It would be one of the most powerful anti-tobacco moves in history.

The first day of INC-1 was filled with both hope and trepidation. To be more accurate, it was filled with diplomatic formalities, punctuated by moments of hope and trepidation. As this is the first day of five and the first INC of five, I’ll refrain from naming names and maintain hope of changing minds.

Let’s start with the disappointing bits. There were several themes repeated ad nauseum by most countries: “inclusiveness;” “need to all move forward together;” “a treaty that works for everyone.” Sounds harmonious, doesn’t it? But what they mean – and some said it explicitly – is that the perpetrators of the plastics problem, including the tobacco industry, must be at the negotiating table, their interests and concerns satisfied, and made an integral part of any solution. This represents a massive conflict of interest imbedded into the negotiations. If the plastics pollution solution would profit industry, it would already be solved.

On the hopeful side, there is also a lot of talk about banning plastics that are “problematic, toxic or harmful.” That sounds a lot like cigarette filters. Anecdotally, having talked to a couple dozen delegates who hadn’t yet given it much thought, all agreed that filters belong on the top of the list of plastics to ban outright (for most products, they talk more about recycling, re-engineering, reusing, etc.).

It’s impossible to predict based on one day, but I retain some optimism that if this treaty sees the light of day, cigarette filters will be first on the chopping block. I’ll be sending periodic updates back to home base, but don’t expect a resolution soon – negotiations conclude at the end of 2024.

Keep reading about ASH’s work on plastics pollution Advance to Day 2 Blog>