Environmentalist groups are sounding the alarm about a steep increase in the number of pro-plastic lobbyists at the UN pollution talks taking place this week.

Delegates from 175 nation states are in Ottawa to hammer out a binding global treaty to reduce the amount of plastic pollution that is overflowing in landfills, spilling into oceans and washing ashore.

Nearly 5,000 people are participating in the summit.

According to analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), 196 lobbyists working for oil, gas and chemical companies are registered as observers for this round of negotiations. CIEL says that is a 37 per cent increase from the previous round of talks held in Kenya and that there may be more lobbyists participating in negotiations who are part of state delegations.

“It’s troubling that the industry and those responsible for polluting are part of the negotiating and influencing the outcome of these talks,” says Suzanne Smoke of the Indigenous People’s Caucus.

Most plastic is made from fossil fuels and some of the chemicals used in the process are toxic.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, more than 430 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year

While most nations agree that plastic pollution needs to end, there is disagreement on how to get there and how long it should take.

Steven Guilbeault

Bethanie Carney-Almroth, a professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Gothenburg, says the lobbyists are actively blocking progress on plastic waste.

“What we find are commonly used techniques employed by industry and actors with conflict of interests to delay and block policy action. This includes providing misinformation, or misrepresenting science, cherry-picking data and producing false experts … and not providing a holistic understand of the impacts of plastics in the environment,” said Carney-Almroth, one of 58 scientists observing the negotiations in Ottawa.

Environmental groups say a cap on plastic production should be entrenched in the treaty as well as a ban on the most toxic chemicals in plastics.

Greenpeace International is calling for a 75 per cent reduction in global plastic production by 2040.

Graham Forbes, Greenpeace’s Global Plastics Campaign lead, says that the fossil fuel industry is investing “hundreds of billions of dollars” in new petrochemical plants to produce plastics for generations to come.

“We are clearly at unsustainable levels now and they are putting all their money behind plans to make the problem worse,” Forbes said.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents plastics manufacturers, says it is against a production cap.

“We believe in ending plastic pollution, not dealing with plastic production,” said Ross Eisenberg, the top lobbyist at the ACC.

Eisenberg says the ACC is against stopping the production of single use plastics such as food and beverage containers which make up more than half the plastic waste. Instead, the ACC supports helping all nations with their recycling efforts and designing better products that can be reused and recycled more efficiently.

“It’s called 'advanced recycling' or 'chemical recycling.' This is a technology that will make all those single-use plastics infinitely recyclable,” said Eisenberg.

Canada is one of 60 countries that support getting rid of non-essential single use plastics by 2040. Canada is also a major fossil fuel producer and, according to Environmental Defence Canada, ranks as the world’s 15th largest plastics producer.

As host of this UN round of talks, Canada is under pressure from environmental groups to take a leadership role in putting forward a strong treaty to reduce plastic pollution.