A proposed United Nations plastic waste treaty must consider putting restrictions on the most problematic plastics, Japan's lead negotiator said, marking the first time the country has suggested it would support curbs on plastic production.
Studies have shown that plastics output must be curbed to rein in skyrocketing plastic pollution, which is clogging waterways, despoiling oceans and killing wildlife. But such measures had been expected to face resistance from countries like Japan that are major producers of the petrochemicals in plastic.
The first round of treaty negotiations is taking place this week in Uruguay, with the agreement - described by the UN as the most significant green deal since the Paris climate accord - expected to be finalised by 2024.
"We need to look at the production side of plastics if those (plastics) are unnecessary or there are environmentally friendly alternatives," Hiroshi Ono said, speaking during a panel discussion for a conference.
Ono added that microplastics and plastics with "hazardous additives" that are hard to recycle were among the materials that should be dealt with by the treaty.
However, on the same panel, Stewart Harris, a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for some of the world's biggest plastic producers, warned that any move to restrict plastic production could backfire.
"We need to keep in mind the tremendous value that plastics provides to society, whether it's providing clean drinking water ... or making sure that food is able to get to the consumer," said Harris.
"There will be tremendous unintended consequences if we were to restrict production."
Plastic output is projected to double within 20 years, while the amount of plastic waste flowing into the world's oceans is forecast to triple in that period.
Scaling-up global recycling is critical to tackling plastic waste, but these efforts will not prevent plastic pollution from continuing to balloon without constraints on production, a landmark 2020 study by Pew Charitable Trusts found.
"We need to turn off the tap and reduce plastic production so that we can have a circular economy approach for the plastic that is in circulation today," Jodie Roussell, global public affairs lead for packaging and sustainability at Nestle, told the panel.
The Swiss food and drink giant is among several big brands that have called for a reduction in virgin plastic production to bolster markets for recycled material and catalyse a shift towards reusable packaging.
That call comes as big consumer goods makers including Nestle look set to miss a target to make plastic packaging more sustainable by 2025, according to a report published earlier this month.