To ban or not to ban? That is the question! The United Nations Environment Programme has released a detailed report on tackling the challenge of single-use plastics around the world. Victoria Manning, Director at Vitaka Consulting, has kindly summarised the report to share with the online WasteAid community.

We all know that plastic pollution is a global problem, but how do we identify and put into practice suitable ways to reduce plastic waste?  The recent United Nations (UN) Environment report “Single-use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability” seeks to address this by bringing together measures which have been successfully adopted in different countries.  The target audience is policy-makers who want reduce waste and increase recycling of single-use plastics.

The report starts by acknowledging the benefits of plastic: it is cheap, lightweight, easy to make, hygienic and robust.  But it also highlights the problems with plastic waste and the reasons action is needed: plastic is not biodegradable and often ends up contaminating the environment, which in turn can contribute to public health problems, exacerbate natural disasters and have huge economic impacts. And the problem is growing.

The most problematic single-use plastic waste includes plastic bags, plastic bottles and caps, cigarette butts and food containers (styrofoam products).

Identifying which is the most common plastics waste in your own country or town is the first of the report’s ten step guide (or “roadmap”) for taking action.

The report sets out a range of actions which can reduce the demand and use of plastics, particularly plastic bags and polystyrene (styrofoam) containers.

Possible actions include:

  • introducing waste management systems to separate, collect and recycle materials;
  • promoting alternatives to plastics, for example reusable bags;
  • social awareness and education to change attitudes towards single-use plastics; and
  • regulations for suppliers, retailers and consumers.

 

Taking action on plastics

The focus of the report is on regulating the production and use of disposable plastics: putting in place a ban or levy (payment) on plastic bags and polystyrene (styrofoam) containers.

For example, in African countries, policies focus on bans on the production and use of plastic bags, while in Europe there is more payment of levies. The report provides a summary of regulations introduced in each country and, where information is available, the impacts of these bans and levies, both good and bad.

 

Ten step roadmap for policy makers

There are a number of more detailed case studies drawing from examples across a range of countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. These examine lessons learned as well as what went well. These lessons feed into the ‘ten step roadmap’ for policy makers and the report takes readers through each stage of introducing a ban or levy on single use plastics. This includes understanding the issues, assessing the options, consulting with stakeholders, raising awareness, monitoring and enforcing.

The report shows that reducing plastics waste is achievable where governments are taking action. I hope this summary will encourage those interested in tackling plastic pollution to read the report in full and take forward some of the suggested measures, or indeed improve on existing ones.

  1. Know the baseline. What plastics are causing what problems? How much are people willing to pay to tackle the problem?
  2. Evaluate possible actions. Regulatory. Voluntary Economic. Combination.
  3. Assess impacts of preferred option. Social. Economic. Environmental.
  4. Engage stakeholders. Government. Citizens. Industry. Retailers. Waste management contractors. Tourism associations.
  5. Raise awareness. Education programmes. TV adverts. Campaigns.
  6. Promote alternatives. Eco-friendly. Affordable. Fit-for-purpose.
  7. Incentivise industry. Allow enough time. Use taxes or tax breaks.
  8. Ringfence revenues. Support related programmes and tell people about it.
  9. Enforce. Set roles and responsibilities. Ensure sufficient resources. Communicate the process. Prosecute offenders.
  10. Monitor and adjust policy. Audits. Surveys. Studies and interviews. Keep the public updated on progress!

 

Single-use plastics: A roadmap for sustainability” can be found here on the UN Environment website.

Victoria Manning is a chartered town planner and director of Vitaka Consulting.

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