In a series of voluntary pledges that green groups warned that they failed to tackle the Earth's pollution crisis. But United Nations member states agreed to "significantly reduce" single-use plastics over the next decade.
The promise came after marathon talks with nearly 200 ministers at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya.
The French news agency AFP reports that the countries reached an agreement on disposable plastic items such as bags, cups and cutlery to reduce the more than 8 million tons of plastics that enter the oceans each year.
The draft ministerial statement, issued on a day of youth protests against climate change, made only two references to man-made global warming and none to the fossil fuels that drive it.
Although the agreement marks the first global commitment to curb plastics, environmental groups say the promises do not go far enough to urgently address the growing pollution crisis that threatens the world.
The AFP reports that countries agreed to "address the damage to our ecosystems caused by the unsustainable use and disposal of plastic products, including by significantly reducing single-use plastic products by 2030."
Sources close to the talks told AFP that several wealthy nations, led by the United States, were influential in diluting the commitment.
An initial ministerial statement at the beginning of the UNEA meeting had proposed a commitment to "eliminate single-use plastics by 2025," a promise much stronger than what the pledging nations appear to have reached.
"It is difficult to find a solution for all member states," said Siim Kiisler, president of UNEA.
“The environment is at a turning point. We don't need detailed documents, we need concrete commitments, "he told reporters.
However, Mr. Kiisler said he was proud that countries had agreed to the "first universal agreement" to reduce the use of plastics.
The world currently produces more than 300 million tons of plastics a year, and there are at least five trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, according to scientists.
The UN previously published its periodic assessment of the health of the planet.
A quarter of all premature deaths and illnesses are caused by man-made pollution, environmental damage and lack of access to clean sanitation services, according to the Global Environmental Outlook report.
Joyce Msuya, acting UN chief of environment, said states had reached consensus on "issues vital to human and planetary health."
Unlike the UN parallel process on climate change, the environmental assembly has no legal means to enforce what countries promise.
Environmental groups gave a lukewarm reception to the commitments made at the meeting.
"World leaders have agreed on some important steps to protect the environment," ActionAid's Harjeet Singh told AFP.
"But we cannot continue to ignore the bigger picture, the increase in global inequality is driving unsustainable consumption levels and destroying the world's natural resources."
Christian Aid's Mohamed Adow said that "more was expected from this meeting to address the only existential environmental crisis of our time: climate change."