Background Information: Global Goal and Commitments to End Plastic Pollution
To solve the global challenge of marine plastic pollution, it is essential to increase focus on reducing the source of plastic pollution by addressing not only plastics disposal infrastructure, but plastics production and consumption. As stated by the Global Environmental Facility Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (GEF/STAP) “Putting it simply, if we can reduce the quantity of plastic waste we produce while at the same time improving waste management options, we maximize our potential to tackle the problems associated with accumulation of waste products in the environment.” There is no single way to comprehensively reduce plastic pollution; these recommended tools should be applied in combination, and should be prioritized as part of implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.
I. “Take Back” programs create extended producer responsibility and reduce the quantity of plastic produced and consumed.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility, physical and/or financial, for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. GEF/STAP notes that “EPR may be well suited to some developing nations, because it helps redistribute the burden of handling end-of-life plastic from governments and individuals who may be impacted by the waste, to producers whose interests would then be aligned with those of the region.”
One of the primary functions of EPR is to transfer the financial and physical responsibility of waste management from local government and taxpayers to the producer. Another important function is to provide incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products. Together, these functions prevent and reduce waste, increase the use of recycled materials in production, and increase resource efficiency. GEF/STAP notes that “EPR allows for design flexibility—bounded by clear performance standards—so innovative companies rather than those that push costs off onto regional governments can succeed in the marketplace, and programs can be tailored to the governance, capacity, and institutional realities of any given nation.”
Extended Producer Responsibility regulations for packaging, which include plastics, are in place or being developed in, Canada, throughout Europe, in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.
II. Legal and regulatory controls are needed to control individual sources that are very difficult to recycle or “take back” (e.g. single use bag fee/bans).
Laws to ban or place fees on single-use plastic items, such as plastic bags, beverage bottles and foam food containers, address the increasing volume of specific plastics and their persistence in the marine environment. Around the world, laws have been enacted to place fees on, or ban single-use plastics. For example, plastic bag control laws are in place in Australia, China, Ireland, Italy, Rwanda, Philippines, Wales, and in various communities throughout the United States.
III. Increase reusable, renewable, recycled-content, and recyclable alternatives to plastics, especially single-use plastics.
Plastics production worldwide is increasing, and half of all plastic items are designed to be used once and then thrown away. Even where modest gains in recycling occurs, increased production surpasses waste diversion. Individual consumers can reduce the amount of packaging they consume, choose recyclable, recycled content, and/or compostable packaging, and seek alternatives to fossil fuel-derived plastics – especially reusable materials. If reusable items are not available as a first option, government, business, and institutional vendors should also choose renewable, recycled-content, and/or recyclable alternatives whenever possible, and all plastics should be properly reused or disposed.
Individuals can take action by signing this pledge to REFUSE single use and disposable plastics, hosted by the Plastic Pollution Coalition.