new database tracks trade across plastics lifecycle | News | SDG Knowledge Center
An event organized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Graduate Institute’s Global Governance Center (GGC) and the Forum on Trade, Environment and SDGs (TESS) discussed ways to follow trade throughout the plastics lifecycle. It also marked the launch of an online open resource database on global trade flows throughout the plastics lifecycle.
As part of Geneva Trade Week, convened in support of the 2021 World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum, the session took place on September 30, 2021.
Presenting the database, developed by UNCTAD and researchers at the University Institute of Geneva, speakers provided a sample of key findings, highlighting how the database can support the efforts of governments, the private sector and the community. civil society to promote a more sustainable trade in plastics and develop policies and regulations aimed at reducing plastic pollution.
The database, derived from the United Nations International Trade Statistics database – UN Comtrade – and based on official sources, captures the extent of trade throughout the lifecycle of plastics by categorizing the codes of harmonized systems (HS) by stage of the plastics life cycle: inputs; primary plastics; intermediate forms of plastic; intermediate manufactured forms; finished manufactured products; and waste.
However, participants stressed that HS Chapter 39, “Plastics and Articles Thereof,” is not sufficient to monitor trade in plastics. They said its long list of plastic products did not cover all plastics traded internationally, including plastic products easily identifiable in other HS chapters or plastics incorporated into other products such as cars. and electronics. The speaker noted that the “hidden plastic trade” involves millions of products on the market that contain integrated plastics.
Despite these shortcomings, efforts are underway to track all of the hidden plastics trade, which can help address the challenge of plastic pollution, speakers said. The database, they said, with its “robust” framework, is “good news for transparency” and useful for policymakers, stakeholders and researchers in solving the problem of plastic pollution. Going forward, participants noted the need to explore changes to the HS classification that could support governments and stakeholders in their efforts.
Participants looked at sample database results, which alongside production showed a sharp increase in plastics trade, valued at over $ 1,000 billion in 2018, or 5% of value. total world trade. However, it has been reported that the plastics trade has declined by 7% in the past year, and it is not yet certain whether this is due to the general slowdown in trade due to COVID-19 or others. factors.
A panel discussion highlighted the multifaceted and complex nature of the plastics trade. Plastic has been part of the path of development in large parts of the world, they said, providing products, creating jobs and lifting communities out of poverty. While much of the discourse on plastics focuses on waste, the panel pointed out that plastic waste is only a small, albeit important, part of the plastics lifecycle. The panelists looked at the example of the primary form of plastic, which was worth $ 322 billion in 2019. They noted that more than 50% of all the primary form of plastic produced is marketed, highlighting how much trade is fundamental for the birth of the life cycle of plastics. In addition, many countries are both importers and exporters of primary plastics, with total exports varying between 7%, 5% and 3% depending on the region.
Speakers underlined that for many sub-categories of plastics, sustainable alternatives are possible and can be part of new sustainable development strategies. For example, when it comes to plastic packaging, which was worth $ 50 billion in 2020, many countries are exploring alternatives, and the data provided in the database could be useful for these efforts.
The event ended with a short tutorial on how policymakers and researchers can access and use the database, and two user experiences, respectively from the Permanent Mission of China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).
The Permanent Mission of China showed how the database could be used to promote policies and regulations to reduce plastic pollution and examine trade-related challenges to meet sustainability goals. Speakers said the database could help identify gaps and limitations and explore the scope of more effective approaches, including through the Informal Dialogue on Plastic Pollution and Trade in Environmentally Sustainable Plastics (IDP), which they described as a “tangible sign of WTO reform in action.” “They said the IDP could serve as a bridge between business and environmental goals.
CIEL said its work on plastic pollution focuses on the lifecycle of plastics and is not limited to the prospect of plastic pollution of the oceans. They noted that by examining trade across the lifecycle of plastics, the database provides more accurate information on the scale of the plastic waste problem and helps map global trade flows across the world. life cycle of plastics.
The panel concluded by stressing the importance of having information not only on value but also on volume. “Although plastic waste appears relatively low in value, it has enormous environmental impacts,” they warned. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]