Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Tearfund home

UN plastics treaty talks: ‘Negotiations are on a knife-edge’ as a successful treaty ‘hangs in the balance’

Written by Melissa Barnston, Senior Media Officer, Tearfund | 01 May 2024

Dr Tiwonge Mzumara Gawa stands with a poster saying 'Tearfund: stop the rubbish'

Dr Tiwonge Mzumara Gawa for Tearfund. Copyright: Tearfund

The penultimate round of UN talks for a future plastics treaty has drawn to a close in Canada. Tearfund sent a delegation to the summit to advocate for a strong legally-binding treaty that would protect the rights of waste pickers.

After a week of discussions, delegates from more than 150 countries agreed a mandate for intersessional work. This means between now and November 2024, when the last stage of the treaty talks is due to take place in South Korea, delegates will meet to look at approaches for identifying plastic products/chemicals of concern, analysing product design for reuse and recycling, and examine resourcing mechanisms for implementation of the treaty.

Tearfund, an international aid and development charity, has been at the fourth stage of the UN talks (also called INC4) in Ottawa, Canada calling on governments to push for a treaty that fully addresses the impacts of waste on people living in poverty, by ensuring four things are mandatory in the final agreement:

  • Reduction: legally binding targets to reduce plastic production and scale up reuse solutions
  • Recycling: universal access to waste collection and recycling
  • Respect: support for waste pickers, including a just transition
  • Response: mechanisms to ensure businesses and governments take action

Rich Gower, senior economist at Tearfund, said:

“An ambitious and effective treaty is still possible, but negotiations are on a knife-edge: time is short and strong opposition remains from the petrochemicals industry and states connected with it, even as their products pile up on street corners and in water courses around the world.

“The global plastics crisis demands a strong treaty, and negotiators owe affected communities every effort to deliver it. This will require commitment and creativity as negotiations continue before the final meeting in Busan, South Korea.”

Tearfund plastics campaigner Dr Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, lecturer in the Biological Sciences Department at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), who was at the talks, said:

“Everyday while these negotiations continue and the treaty still hangs in the balance, people in Africa are being affected by the devastating impacts of plastic pollution.

“But this week I have also had the opportunity to learn how African states are acting at the national level, sharing their own innovations and steps to help stop the rubbish.

“But they can’t do this on their own; to truly eradicate plastic pollution we need a strong, legally-binding global plastics treaty.”

Alejandro Mena, Chile's National Association of Waste Pickers, and member of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers:

“We are now seeing broad support for a just transition for waste pickers in the treaty with positive statements from a continuously growing number of member states and regional groupings, a completely different scenario from the first round of negotiations, where the term 'just transition' was barely even mentioned.

“The treaty must include a mandatory just transition for waste pickers, who are essential workers in the circular economy and recycling systems, and indigenous peoples. No one is left behind.”


For further information, higher resolution images and interview requests call Melissa Barnston on 07929 335 146 or for out of hours media enquiries please call +44 (0)7929 339813.

Written by

Written by  Melissa Barnston, Senior Media Officer, Tearfund

Senior Media Officer, Tearfund

Share this page

Share this page to spread the word and help support those in need.

Get our email updates

Learn about our work and stay in touch with Tearfund. Hear about our news, activities and appeals by email.

Sign up now - Get our email updates

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.