The UN and the Plastic at Sea

by Lavinio Gualdesi

With regard to the opinion, has often emerged from these columns that:

A recurring opinion under these columns, now fairly shared, is concerning the age-old and disastrous problem of the uncontrolled and very large plastic packages litter into the sea for which the only effective long-term solution, is to limit the production of plastic to that of lasting use and to ban the concept of “disposable” …. at sea.

The axiom, supported by food producers, that a packaging aimed at the longest conservation of foods reduces waste, raises the suspicion that the problem has only moved by placing it at the expense of the consumer who, at this point, should take on the costs of the virtuous disposal of the packaging and the social costs of distributing to the less well-off before the expiry of what was purchased and not consumed on time. If producers contributed to withdrawing unsold products from supermarket counters shortly before the deadline to distribute them free of charge to poor consumers by collecting and recycling the plastic packaging, a multi-level synergic effect would have been established on two fronts: reduction of pollution and fame in the world.

I have reports that this is done by charitable organizations on a voluntary basis.

I have no news that it happens on an industrial and commercial level.

Research on this field is struggling to convert production so that it can be digested without harm to the environment, but the numbers are still dramatically in favor of what the environment no longer tolerates.

In this last glimpse of 2022 something happened in favor of virtuous policies in this regard.

Among the most important actors, the United Nations have promoted with their bodies

the Agreement among the member states of the UN on the need to reach a Binding International Agreement on the problem of plastic pollution of the planet.

United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Program Fifth session held in Nairobi on 22–26 February 2021 and 28 February–2 March 2022:

“End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument*

In the Final Draft Document: UNEP/EA.5/L.23/Rev.11 after the usual preliminary statements on the situation of waste in the oceans, the following is decided:

“Decides that the intergovernmental negotiating committee is to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment henceforth referred to as the instrument, which could include both binding and voluntary approaches, based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, taking into account among other things, the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development […]”

Finally, the document closes with three programmatic points based, as we read, essentially on volunteering:

14. Requests the Executive Director to continue to support and advance the work of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, while strengthening scientific, technical and technological knowledge with regard to plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, inter alia, on methodologies for monitoring, and sharing available scientific and other relevant data and information.

15. Calls upon all Member States to continue and step up activities and adopt voluntary measures to combat plastic pollution, including measures related to sustainable consumption and production, which may include circular economy approaches, and developing and implementing national action plans, while fostering international action and initiatives under respective national regulatory frameworks, and also on a voluntary basis to provide statistical information on environmentally sound management of plastic waste, as appropriate, taking into account their national circumstances;

16. Requests the Executive Director, subject to the availability of financial resources, to convene a forum in conjunction with the first session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee, building upon existing initiatives, where appropriate, that is open to all stakeholders to exchange information and activities related to plastic pollution.”

The first meeting of the related INC-1 (International Negotiating Committee), took place in Punta del Este in Uruguay from 29 November to 2 December as stated on the UNEP2 website.

Expected outcomes of the dialogue may include:

Options for committee consideration on how to continue stakeholder engagement throughout the INC process and how to structure and initiate the multi-stakeholder action agenda

The above will be the content of the stakeholder dialogue summary, which will be made available by the Secretariat.

The document on the results of the work of this conference is not yet online.

Then on 19 December 2022 in Montreal at the end of the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP 15) documents were issued on this issue:

– in section H the work programs for 2030 are indicated, which will then make it possible to achieve the objectives for 2050.


Reduce pollution risks and the adverse impacts of pollution from all sources, by 2030, to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, considering cumulative effects, including: reduce by at least half the excess nutrients are dispersed into the environment even through multiple cycles and efficient use of nutrients; reduce the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by at least half, including through science-based integrated pest management, taking into account food security and livelihoods; and also to prevent, reduce and work to eliminate plastic pollution.”

Finally, I report the considerations in this regard by Alessandro D’Onofrio, Secretary General of Plastic Free Waters,3an operation launched by Rotary International, which has always been active in this sector:

“Many of those present at the Nairobi meeting last March, where the participating countries agreed on the need for an Agreement, had expressed doubts that two years is enough to achieve that important goal. I’m also moderately dubious. And I am dubious because I am optimistic, and I hope that the work of this International Negotiating Committee will bring real results. Which actually may take longer. That is, if an international agreement is reached in two years, it is to be imagined that it will be a fake and empty agreement, which will change absolutely nothing. With the danger that with its very existence, of a Great Global Agreement for the whole world, it will only strengthen the position of those truly responsible for the planet’s plastic pollution, to whom nothing can be opposed anymore.

(see Everything must change if everything is to remain as before).

Not secondary, the Negotiating Committee also includes plastic producers, some even hidden behind NGO acronyms….

The Packaging Insights publication reports:

“Fox in the henhouse?”

Civil society and environmental groups criticize petrochemical presence at UN plastic treaty talks:

“…many nongovernmental organizations like the UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – involved in the forum – say the attendance of plastics industry players “sets a concerning precedent for the negotiations to come,” and that the UN should not allow “the very companies that are driving the harms caused by plastic pollution to have an equal seat at the table.”

Neil Tangri, science and policy director at Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives, says the concept of the multi-stakeholder forum is flawed from the outset.

“[The forum] is aimed at finding common ground between environmental justice groups, waste pickers, public health professionals, environmentalists and the very companies that are the source of the problem: the petrochemical industry.”

“That is a recipe for failure. Instead, the treaty process should follow the precedent of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which excluded the tobacco industry from its negotiations. The plastics petrochemical industry is not part of the solution, it is the problem,” says Tangri. “

And then Alessandro D’Onofrio continues:

On the other hand, the statement released at the end of the meeting by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is unequivocal:


-Plastics are fossil fuels in another form and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate & biodiversity. As negotiations towards an agreement to beat plastic pollution continue, I call on countries to look beyond waste and turn off the tap on plastic.-



The positions that emerged at the very beginning of the negotiations are very different. Saudi Arabia, the USA and many Asian countries want an International Agreement where everyone is free to do as they please… i.e. set their own goals, and no obligation to achieve them (they are participating in a program to produce an International Agreement Binding….)

An ambitious coalition of about a quarter of UN member countries, including nearly all Europeans and several South Americans and Africans, as well as Australia and Canada, are leaning towards stringent rules, including outlawing certain products, and to observe them.

So D’Onofrio concludes with an interesting consideration on the voting mechanism:

An important aspect is that of the European vote. Vote of Europe (which is worth 1) or vote of the 27 individual European states? Already last June in a preliminary meeting in Dakar the single vote of Europe had been questioned, and in any case it seems that in Punta del Este the matter has not been resolved. We will see at the next meeting of the Negotiating Committee in France, in May 2023. Some countries are of the opinion that we should only talk about recycling and waste management (!) while others agree that the whole cycle of life of plastic, starting from production. But difficulties have arisen as to what is meant by the life cycle of plastic….

The above was to illustrate why I hope, but am not sure, that the International Binding Agreement program on the problem of plastic pollution will bring serious results, even if it takes more than two years to achieve them.”

The Italian representatives at this meeting are listed in a UNEP document and are reported at the end of this text.

Finally, I am pleased to inform you, speaking of representations, that O.Me.G.A. reader and collaborator Prof. Amel Hamza Chafai of the University of Sfax has been appointed Vice Chair of Africa and adjacient Island States Ocean Decade Taskforce of the 2021- 2030 United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development.

UNEP Italian Representatives

Ms. Laura Iaciofano, Officer, Ministry for Ecological Transition

Mr. Pierluigi Manzione, Expert, Ministry for Ecological Transition

Online participation

Mr. Roberto Giangreco, Officer, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Ms. Annalisa Patania, Officer, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Mme. Benedetta Dell’Anno, Senior Policy Officer, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Ms. Daniela Pasella, Expert, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Ms. Diana Corradi, Officer, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Ms. Sara Livi, official, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Ms. Simona Rossi, expert, Ministry of Ecological Transition

Ms. Valeria Galanti, Functionnaire, Ministry of Ecological Transition



Lavinio Gualdesi