A UN Treaty on plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is rapidly outpacing current efforts to stop it. We need a UN treaty on plastic pollution to amplify existing efforts, through a more coordinated and ambitious approach

To solve plastic waste and pollution, in way that also helps us address climate change and biodiversity loss, we need a circular economy for plastic which addresses the full lifecycle of plastic and is based on three main principles:

  • Eliminate all problematic and unnecessary plastic items we do not need
  • Innovate to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • Circulate all plastics items we use to keep them in the economy and out of the environment

Many companies and countries have taken important voluntary steps, laying the foundations for wide-reaching cooperation. Through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UNEP’s Global Commitment, and the Foundation’s Plastics Pact Network, we have already seen +1,000 organisations take significant steps towards a circular economy for plastic. Businesses and governments have committed to change how we produce, use, and reuse plastic, with concrete 2025 targets and year-on-year reporting.

But voluntary agreements alone cannot reach the scale we need to urgently solve this crisis. Policymakers have a critical role to play in creating the right conditions and incentivising progress. A global treaty for a circular economy for plastics is the next necessary step to scale the successful voluntary agreements already in place. We need common, urgent action that builds on this momentum to amplify current efforts and level the playing field.

A global problem needs a global solution

Plastic pollution doesn’t care about borders. Countries and organisations can’t fix the problem on their own. It is a global challenge that needs a coordinated and globally aligned response. We need a UN Treaty that:

  • takes a circular economy approach, addressing the entire lifecycle of plastics and focusing upstream to design out waste before it is created;
  • sets global standards, clear definitions for success, and common regulations, to create a level playing field for a globally operating industry, and help to strengthen and support current efforts; and
  • enables all participating countries by giving them the tools, knowledge, and robust frameworks to create a circular economy for plastics.

More than 70 leading businesses and financial institutions are calling for a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution, which is also supported by more than ¾ of UN member states and more than 2 million people. We urge others to join them in supporting a treaty that will enable circular economy solutions to scale globally.

“We have seen important steps taken by businesses and governments in addressing plastic pollution over recent years. More than 500 organisations have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, setting clear targets to achieve a circular economy for plastic in which it never becomes waste or pollution. But voluntary initiatives alone are not enough to solve plastic pollution and we believe governments and policymakers have a vital role to play. A binding global agreement that builds on the vision of a circular economy for plastic can ensure a unified international response to plastic pollution that matches the scale of the problem. – Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder & Chair of Trustees Ellen MacArthur Foundation

“Over the last few years we have seen growing public demand for action on plastic pollution, with some governments and industries starting to implement voluntary measures on this issue, but this needs better coordination, and the international impetus and recognition that a global treaty would generate. While companies have a clear responsibility to address plastic pollution within their own supply chains wider systemic change is vital. The plastic pollution crisis was created in a single lifetime and can be ended in a single decade. But only if we act now, together. – Cristianne Close, Head of the Markets Practice of WWF International

We call on all governments, industry and civil society to urgently work together towards a common understanding on the main building blocks for a new UN Treaty on plastic pollution, and to agree on establishing an international negotiating committee at UNEA 5.2 in 2022.

In August 2021 we published a white paper that sets out the Foundation’s perspective on a new UN treaty to address plastic pollution and support the transition to a circular economy for plastics.

Read the white paper

The business case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution

Our joint report with WWF and the Boston Consulting Group set out the opportunity for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution.


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Ellen MacArthur Foundation, press release, 2022-03-02.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)


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