Life Cycle approach to addressing plastics pollution
Build from Existing InitiativesScientific Basis, Quantitative AnalysisAction PlansScience-based TargetsGuide Financing with Science

Build from Existing Initiatives

Addressing plastic pollution requires a concerted effort by the global community. Multiple global initiatives are already in place and have been gaining momentum in the last years .

One of the main initiatives today is the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation together with UNEP. The vision of the Global Commitment subscribes to life cycle thinking and circular economy of plastics. Over 500 businesses and governments have signed the Global Commitment and committed to undertake specific actions under three broad areas: eliminate problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging, innovate plastic products, and circulate plastic products so they stay in the economy and out of the environment.

To know more about the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, check out: Plastics and a circular economy | Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Scientific Basis, Quantitative Analysis

A Life Cycle Approach provides a science-based and quantitative understanding on the environmental impacts of plastic throughout its life cycle. The practice of using Life Cycle Thinking ensures that one specific environmental impact is not merely shifted to other issues. Instead, it provides an overall outlook on the environmental impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. E.g. our studies have shown that single-use plastic packaging products have usually worse environmental impact when compared to reusable models.

UNEP has been publishing LCA meta-analyses on the best alternatives to different kinds of single-use plastic products, such as shopping bags, bottles, takeaway food packaging, cups, tableware, nappies, and menstrual products.

To read our different reports, click here: Single-Use Plastic Products Studies – Life Cycle Initiative

Action Plans

The development and implementation of Action Plans to tackle plastic pollution and marine litter, as produced by Regional and National governments, is one of the most effective ways of addressing the issue. The content of the Action Plans are ideally informed by national source inventories, which may in turn by national Hotspot Analysis, such as described here.

UNEP has been working with several countries in the development of Action Plans. Additionally, UNEP has been encouraging action from governments in the context of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, co-led with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Useful examples of government action (as well as the progress from specific governments against those actions) can be consulted from this page: https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/global-commitment/signatory-reports (select the category “Governments” and then pick the government you want to learn from).

Science-based Targets

The targets to reduce plastic pollution should be developed based on scientific criteria. The Hotspotting Guidance provides a scientific approach in identifying the key areas that a government needs to improve on. These hotspots can range from the critical type of polymer to be addressed, stage in the life cycle which has the most negative impact, and the specific locality in the country where leakage most occur. Upon identification of key areas to improve on, targets can then be developed. These targets serve as an indicator whether a project or policy was effective in its purpose. The image above displays some examples of indicators.

Together with the IUCN, UNEP has been working with countries in the assessment of their national plastic pollution hotspots. To read more on the Hotspotting Guidance, click here: National Guidance for Plastic Pollution Hotspotting and Shaping Action (lifecycleinitiative.org)

Guide Financing with Science

Addressing plastic pollution and marine litter requires a redesign of the plastics economy. The present situation is caused by how single-use plastic products are considered as a necessary commodity that is easy to produce and requires little effort for consumers to discard. It is the convenience of plastics that make it challenging to modify how things are done. However, legislations can encourage plastic producers and retailers to be more accountable in managing the plastics they bring out in the economy. This will require certain investment or financing on their part to come up with innovative sustainable solutions to decrease the environmental impact of plastics.

One such policy that is being implemented in different countries is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. Businesses involved in the life cycle of plastic are required to pay a fee. The accumulated collected amount will be invested into different solutions to address plastic pollution.

For more information on how an EPR scheme can be implemented, check out: Extended Producer Responsibility - Plastics SA (plasticsinfo.co.za)