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INC-4: Legally Binding Plastic Pollution

Autumn Marsh

Millions of tonnes of plastic waste enter our ecosystems annually and it’s only getting worse. The UNEP on Plastic Pollution mentions that the amount of plastic entering aquatic ecosystems alone can triple by 2040; totaling 23-37 million tonnes of plastic waste hitting just the aquatic systems. Due to the serious implications of this much plastic waste production, the UN Environment Assembly determined that we need what UNEP on Plastic Pollution calls a “legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.” This is why 2022 saw the creation of the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC).

The fourth INC conference (INC-4) spanned from April 23rd to April 29th, 2024. The fifth INC meeting has a date set in late 2024 and is dedicated to legal drafting and clarity. However, INC-4 was dedicated to finalizing decisions on crucial terminology that will be included in the treaty such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ plast. The Fourth Session: Official Documents hosts a draft of the legally binding treaty that INC and the UNEP are working to finalize for global execution, science on plastic pollution, funding documents, participants, and other such documents.

One of the most important documents that has come from the inception of the INC is their Plastic Pollution Science Document which compiles all of the science that had brought us to this point. The Plastic Pollution Science Document brings horrific facts about the state of the environment to the table. Including data about the lethal and sublethal effects that plastics have on aquatic and terrestrial species, the contributions of plastic to greenhouse gas emissions, its detriment to human health, and how a large part of these negative effects is due to inefficiency. One of the listed sublethal effects is that plastic pollution is altering plankton's ability to perform its critical carbon cycling capabilities. With the data, INC is using the finding that a one percent decline in the efficiency and quality of plankton contributions costs around $500 billion. As well as other major concerns such as plastic pollution to 3.6% of the global greenhouse gas emissions produced in 2020 alone.

Though the Plastic Pollution Science Document isn’t exclusively depressing. It contains valuable information about the best policies that can be put in place for the life-cycle of plastic, how the inclusivity of formal waste management will result in improvements in working conditions, and best yet, that the ending of plastic pollution is still possible for us if we work hard enough. According to the IISD’s Summary Report, INC-4 opened up with Iger Anderson, the Executive Director of the UNEP declaring the “end plastic pollution by using less harmful materials, designing for circularity, [and] reusing resources more effectively.” A bold and confident claim was followed with a reminder that his country has already pledged CAD 15 million to partnerships that will be dedicated to enforcing the results of the final treaty. This equates to around USD 11 million. Several other countries also have monetary contributions planned to further support the goals of the INC.

Ultimately, the members of the INC conferences are working hard to get a legally binding treaty on plastic finalized as soon as possible. Countries across the globe have recognized and acknowledged the negative effects that plastic pollution is having on the environment and human health. Many of the participants of INC pledging millions of dollars to support the legal changes that need to be made to save our ecosystems and therefore, save our planet.


1. Documents | UNEP. UNEP. (n.d.-a).

2. Fourth Session (INC-4): Official documents. UNEP. (n.d.-b). Science.pdf

3. Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution. UNEP. (n.d.).

4. Summary report 23–29 April 2024. IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin. (n.d.).


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