Written by: Mallory Gaines | April 6, 2023
Imagine that all the different countries in the world are Greek gods and goddesses. As Americans, we would likely think ourselves as the almighty Zeus and maybe we would say our brethren the European Union (EU) would be Poseidon, brother of Zeus and god of the sea. Even though Zeus is all powerful, Poseidon is no slouch; he bestowed many gifts, seduced many nymphs and sent many sea monsters to ravage those who betrayed him. All the gods and goddesses meet on Mount Olympus and here is where we make our analogy stretch to the United Nations (UN).
The UN was formed in 1945 after World War II and is currently made up of 193 gods and goddesses…I mean countries. The UN states, “It remains the one place on Earth where all the world’s nations can gather together, discuss common problems and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity.” Drilling down through the layers of the UN and its many agencies, we come to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its decision-making body, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA).
UNEA, based on decisions made by its country members, defines priorities for environmental policy around the globe, can develop international laws or treaties and determines the work program for the UNEP. In February 2022, the UNEA set up intergovernmental negotiating committees to work on a legally binding instrument (UN words not mine, it’s all Greek to me!) for plastic pollution to address the full life cycle of plastic. The UNEA is calling for all member states to agree to an approach and implement policies to combat plastic pollution.
So, we are on Mount Olympus with all the gods and goddesses, and Poseidon, god of water, stands up with his trident and says “Listen to me! I am the god of water, I have a very strong economy and I have a fully formed proposed rule in my realm that can help reduce plastic waste!” The EU, as our Poseidon, has a proposed rule, “Proposal for a Regulation on packaging and packaging waste,” and this is where a domestic policy intersects with international policy.
The proposed rule is very comprehensive. It includes all types of packaging and mandates reductions of certain types of packaging, such as plastic. We can immediately ascertain that this proposed rule will affect you if you are an animal food company doing business in or with the EU. What you may not be aware of, is that the EU is currently the loudest voice at the UNEA, making suggestions and encouraging other countries to adopt its policies under the guise of its so called “high ambition coalition.”
The United States is limited in its positions on plastics and packaging by U.S. statute and the realities that any agreements it signs onto within a legally binding UN process like this have to be acceptable to Congress in order to become domestic policy. The United States is pushing for guidance or reductions to be voluntary, but this doesn’t change the fact that many countries (and the number is growing) want to see substantial movement of this issue. In lieu of another option, the EU proposal stands out as the Golden Fleece- the answer to everyone’s problems.
As a humble mortal, I encourage members to think about packaging and packaging waste, whether plastic or otherwise.
Can we encourage the United States to find a position we can all live with? Without a position to share, the mighty Zeus is without his lightning bolt, and the United States is without a solid means to share alternative measures and ways to meet our ultimate goals of sustainability at the UN.
I highly encourage the AFIA membership to review the EU’s “Proposal for a Regulation on packaging and packaging waste” and send any comments to me no later than April 12. Whatever the EU eventually adopts will create a framework for their position at the UNEA and will have a major impact on plastics policies around the world.
I look forward to hearing from members on this issue! You can reach me, Mallory Gaines, Director of Market Access and Trade Policy, at email@example.com.