Single-Use Plastic Products (SUPP) and their alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) defines single use plastic products as “an umbrella term for different types of products that are typically used once before being thrown away or recycled” (UNEP 2018), which includes food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, cutlery and shopping bags. It has been estimated that about 100-150 million tonnes of plastics are produced for single use products and about 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the oceans every year (Plastics Oceans 2019)

There is a need to consider alternative solutions to single-use plastic products. Resolution 9 of the fourth edition of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4) in March 2019, on “Addressing Single-use plastic products pollution” (UNEP/EA.4/R.9), “encourages member states to take actions, as appropriate, to promote the identification and development of environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastic products, taking into account the full life cycle implications of those alternatives”.

UN Environment Programme was requested by UNEP/ EA.4/R.9 to make available existing information on the full life cycle environmental impacts of plastic products compared to products of alternative materials. In answer to this, the Life Cycle Initiative is working on a series of meta-analyses of LCA studies on single-use plastic products and their alternatives. Each meta-analysis highlights the key advantages and disadvantages of alternatives to the single-use plastic products, and distils key messages for policy-makers. Several reports will be published throughout the year including on bags, bottles, take-away food packaging, beverage cups, plates and cutlery, face masks, nappies… The studies will progressively be made available in this webpage.

A high-level summary report for policy makers integrating the findings in studies will be published towards the end of 2020 as an information document to the Fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA5).

Download the publications

Consult the introduction webinars and slide presentations

Single-use plastic products (SUPP) pollution is a serious issue that needs urgent and sustained attention at all levels of society. We need to change current consumption patterns and waste management practices to ensure that by 2050 we are not faced with over 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and the environment. The United Nations Environment Assembly at its Fourth session encouraged and invited more action by all actors, and especially Member States, to improve waste management, but importantly to work more upstream in designing environmentally preferable alternatives while considering all impacts across the full life cycle of such products.

This webinar series responds to that request by sharing information on lifecycle environmental impacts of plastic products in comparison with alternative materials and by sharing case studies of actions by Member States.

Part 1 Slides

Series A

Asia-Pacific / Europe / Africa / West Asia

Series B

North America /  Latin America & Caribbean / Europe / Africa / West Asia

Part 2 Slides

Series A

Asia-Pacific / Europe / Africa / West Asia

Series B

North America /  Latin America & Caribbean / Europe / Africa / West Asia

Part 1 Webinar recording

The PART 1 video contains presentations from the first webinars of both Series A and B of the UNEP Webinar Series on Addressing SUPP Pollution using a Life Cycle Approach which were held on the 6th and 13th October 2020. Case studies (NZ, UK) unique to the webinar held on the 6th October can be found at the end of the recording. It includes presentations on:

  • LCA Meta-Studies on Tableware, Beverage Cups, Nappies and Feminine Hygiene Products.
  • 20 Years of Government Response to the Global Plastic Pollution Problem.
  • Legislations Guidance on the Regulation of SUPPs.
  • Case studies: New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Colombia.

Part 2 Webinar recordings

Series A

Asia-Pacific / Europe / Africa / West Asia

This video contains presentations from Part 2 of Series A of the UNEP Webinar Series on Addressing SUPP Pollution using a Life Cycle Approach which was held on the 20th  October 2020. This recording includes presentations on:

  • LCA Meta-Studies on Shopping bags, beverage bottles, and takeaway food packaging.
  • Case studies: Thailand, Mauritius, and South Africa.

Series B

North America /  Latin America & Caribbean / Europe / Africa / West Asia

This video contains presentations from Part 2 of Series B of the UNEP Webinar Series on Addressing SUPP Pollution using a Life Cycle Approach which was held on the 27th  October 2020. This recording includes presentations on:

  • LCA Meta-Studies on shopping bags, beverage bottles, and takeaway food packaging.
  • Update on AHEG work and presentation on importance of considering consumer behaviour on SUPP in policymaking
  • Case studies: European Commission, Canada.