A comprehensive global plastics treaty is an important step in addressing plastic pollution globally from all sources, including nurdles. The treaty offers a significant opportunity to address the issue of nurdle pollution worldwide, with regulation vital to preventing nurdle pollution across the global plastic supply chain. Many had hoped more progress would be made at the latest round of negotiations in Nairobi (INC3), with some observers critical of the role of a small number of oil producing nations in frustrating negotiations, however a number positive steps were made toward a final treaty.

From the 13th-19th November in Nairobi, Kenya, the third round of negotiations (known as INC-3) took place at the United Nations (UN) for an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (UNEA Resolution 5/14), commonly referred to as the ‘global plastics treaty’.

Prior to the start of INC-3 there was also a preparatory session held on the 11th November to discuss the synthesis report (UNEP/PP/INC.3/INF/1) produced by the secretariat from pre-session submissions from nations and observer organisations, on elements not discussed at INC2 and potential areas of intersessional work.


What was discussed?

INC-3 is the latest phase of negotiations in the development of a treaty to address the issue of plastic pollution globally. Following the proceeding round of negotiations (INC-2) the secretariat was mandated to prepare a ‘Zero Draft’ document (UNEP/PP/INC.3/4), which contained options for a final treaty and formed the basis for discussion at the INC-3 negotiations. It was hoped that discussions at INC-3 would allow for the development of the treaty to progress and culminate in a mandate for the secretariat to produce a ‘version 1’ of the treaty text ahead of the fourth round of negotiations (INC-4) in Canada in April 2024

However work did not progress to this stage. Disagreements regarding the content and scope of the Zero Draft document resulted in the secretariat being mandated to produce a ‘Revised Zero Draft’ by the 31st December. This ‘Revised Zero Draft’ will form the basis of the next round of negotiations in April 2024.

Three Contact Groups were formed at INC3 and undertook areas of work in relation to the Zero Draft text. Contact Groups 1 and 2 were able to complete much of  their work as was Contact Group 3. However, contact Group 3 were unable to reach a consensus of intersessional work to be carried out before the next round of negotiations. This intersessional work is vital to further discuss details for the treaty, including funding mechanisms to support implementation, plastic production targets, polymers and chemicals of concern, production reduction, microplastics and ensuring synergy with other treaties. Without this consensus agreement, this important work will be delayed.

Discussions also continued and remain unresolved regarding procedural matters, including whether  a consensus or vote mechanism will be used to determine the adoption of the final treaty, this will be important for decision-making which will be vital to break stalemates like those seen at INC3. How restrictions and targets will be set also continue to be unresolved. Meanwhile the new Chair of the INC was successfully selected, Luis Vayas Valdivieso (Ecuador), replacing Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru), and will remain chair for the remainder of the INC process.


Highlighting the need for nurdles in the treaty

Fidra along with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Fauna & Flora and environmentalist James Wakibia hosted a round table discussion at INC-3. The aim of the discussion was to highlight the issue of plastic pellet pollution and how the final global plastics treaty can address it. Member states and observers from industry and NGOs all contributed to the discussion where it was acknowledged that pellet pollution is global and ongoing despite current voluntary efforts to address it. Key points in the discussion included:

  • Plastic pellet pollution from production, transport and conversion is widespread and even those places not currently experiencing high levels of pollution are at risk from major spills and ongoing loss of pellets even where there is no nearby pellet production
  • Plastic pellets can be made from fossil fuels, recycled plastic, biobased materials and toxic chemicals, all of which can have a detrimental impact on the environment.
  • The Zero draft is a good start in mandating the prevention of plastic pellet pollution across the supply chain, but more can be done to ensure compensation, restoration and protocols are in place to address pellet spills and pollution sites.

In preparation for INC3 we also prepared a policy brief document, detailing how plastic pellets must be addressed in the global plastics treaty and how this can be achieved. You can download a copy of the briefing document here. During the negotiations there was support for including measures to address pellet pollution in the treaty but there were also indications that some delegations favored the status quo of voluntary action. Ongoing pellet pollution demonstrates the current voluntary efforts to stop pellet pollution are ineffective in preventing global pellet loss, with further reports of pellet loss being reported while the negotiations were taking place. Mandatory pellet loss prevention measures are needed to address pellet pollution.


A conflict of interests

Concerns from civil society and some nations regarding the conflict of interest present at the negotiations was once again highlighted. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) reveled that at least 143 fossil fuel and chemical industry representatives were present at the negotiations, including as part of national delegations. This representation out numbers all representatives of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (64) and observers from Scientists Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty (38) combined. This presence has grown by 36% since the last round of negotiations at INC2 and unless robust conflict of interest policies are in place this has potential to undermine the treaty development process.


Views of attendees:

"It was great to see interest in addressing pellet pollution from member states, NGOs and industry but it was alarming to learn that some thought primary plastic is not a pollutant. Plastic pellet pollution proves primary plastic is a pollutant. Plastic pellets are made from primary, bio-based and recycled plastic and are a major pollution issue impacting communities and ecosystems worldwide. Ensuring pellets have a place in a robust plastic treaty brings us a step closer to ending this preventable plastic pollution."

Heather McFarlane, Fidra


"'To effectively tackle plastic pollution it’s vital that we address it at its first point of production, its building blocks- the plastic pellets (I.e. nurdles), and impacts of its leakage into the environment during processing, handling, storage, and transportation to safeguard environment and life.

At the INC3, our roundtable discussions on pellet pollution, speakers and participants highlighted its many negative impacts and the need to have a treaty that will see zero pellet loss. Although there was no agreement on intersessional work for the next round of negotiations, I am encouraged by the global awareness of plastic pollution and the collective determination to address this critical issue. Because of the trans-boundary movement of plastic, we need an internationally legally binding plastics treaty and not voluntary efforts to end pellet pollution. All countries must work together to stop the threat of nurdle pollution"

James Wakibia, Plastic Waste Activist and Photojournalist


"I think that the roundtable discussion at INC3 was really timely: it was a great opportunity to do a deep dive into the issue of pellet loss. It’s really positive to see momentum for the Treaty to address the issue but concerning to see differing levels of ambition emerging. Pellet pollution is one of the largest sources of microplastic pollution yet it is preventable. There can be no such thing as acceptable losses. The treaty is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break the status quo."

Tanya Cox, Fauna & Flora


"Petrochemical interests continue to obstruct meaningful progress in the negotiating process, seemingly prioritising profit over the essential protection of human health and the environment from plastic pollution. While we move the needle forward on the text addressing spills and losses of plastic pellets - which start during the production process -  efforts will mean little without unwavering ambition from Member States to define the lifecycle of plastic broadly from extraction to final disposal. We must continue to fight to reduce the overproduction of plastic to effectively address plastic pellet pollution."

 Amy Youngman, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)


What happens next?

  • Following the conclusion of INC-3, work by the secretariat to prepare a ‘Revised Zero Draft’ will begin and will be presented by the 31st December 2023. This will form the basis for discussions at the next round of negotiations.
  • The next round of negotiation (INC-4) will take place in April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada. This will be a important round of negotiations, with only one more round following INC4 to develop the final treaty.
  • It is vital that a final ILBI is comprehensive in addressing all sources of plastic pollution, including nurdles. Continue to raise awareness and call on your national governments and representatives to ensure that nurdle pollution is addressed in the final treaty and to ensure that a comprehensive final treaty is agreed.


More information:

For more information and resources on the Global Plastics Treaty follow the links below: