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Kiribati calls for a strong global commitment to upstream measures to solve the plastic crisis

1 June 2023, Paris France – Thirty-three coral atolls and islands are dispersed among the three groups that form Kiribati, which are the Gilbert, Line, and Phoenix islands. Covering a land area of 810km2, the island groups are spread over a vast ocean area of approximately 3.5 million square kilometers in the Central Pacific Ocean.

An estimated 13 per cent of the waste stream in Kiribati is comprised of plastic with recent studies indicating a plastic waste generation of 9.7 tonnes every day accumulating in landfills and the Kiribati environment.  This amount is significant for small island developing states like Kiribati with limited resources, lack of capacity and minimal treatment options to dispose of such waste other than landfilling.

"Kiribati like other PSIDS, does not produce plastic and therefore we are at the downstream in the plastic lifecycle. Our remoteness makes the exportation of recyclable waste items too costly, and our limited land area hinders our ability to install suitable waste treatment facilities.  The plastic waste that washes up on the beach daily is adding more pressure on the existing waste management system and infrastructure,” said Mr Teema Biko, the Senior Hazardous & Chemical Waste Management Officer at the Kiribati government’s Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development.

The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-2) is underway in Paris, France this week.

Kiribati is one of 12 Pacific Islands engaging in the negotiations helping to amplify a One Pacific Voice for a Plastics Treaty reflective of our islands’ needs.

“Plastic pollution is a transboundary problem and we need an ambitious and comprehensive global treaty that covers the full lifecycle of plastic and promotes circular economy to support sound management of plastic wastes that is safe and isn’t harmful to the environment and human health,” said Mr Biko.

“For a treaty to be effective, we should look at mandatory upstream measures.”

Plastic has been identified as top waste stream needing attention in the Kiribati Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy 2020-2030. National efforts to reduce plastic consumption and pollution includes the banning of the single use shopping bags, disposable nappies and ice block plastic bags.

“We have learned many lessons from our experience in banning single-use plastics and it is clear to us that no one state can solve this problem alone. It will take full responsibility and leadership from all of us for the future of our planet and our future generations,” he said.

The second Intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment is taking place in Paris France from 29 May to 2 June 2023.  

The Pacific Islands are represented by the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu through the support of the Government of Australia and the United Nations.

They are supported by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), working with partners the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Environmental Investigation Agency, Centre for International Environmental Law, University of Wollongong, WWF and Massey University.

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Empowering our Pacific News Media - Plastics Treaty Brain Bites

Defining the lifecycle – where should intervention begin?

Source: United Nations Environment Programme

In the context of the oil and gas industry, the lifecycle is typically divided into three stages based on functions and operations: upstream, midstream and downstream.

Upstream involves the extraction and gathering of fossil resources; midstream involves the processing of the fossil resources into various products, including naphtha and natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane, which are feedstocks to produce petrochemicals; and downstream includes refining and cracking into petrochemicals.

In this context, plastic does not yet exist. Plastic comes into existence as a material upon polymerisation. For this reason, polymerisation is the natural starting point for any new global agreement on plastic pollution – the beginning of the lifecycle of plastic, as it were – with the lifecycle thereafter divided into t three stages:11,12 (i)upstream, i.e.production and consumption of virgin plastic polymers; (ii)midstream, i.e.product design and use; (iii)downstream, i.e.plastic waste management and treatment.