What does a life-cycle approach applied to address marine litter and plastic pollution look like?


During the first pre-meeting of the informal “Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution”, a request was made by Member States to UNEP and the Life Cycle Initiative (hosted by UNEP) to provide technical insights to the delegates on what does it mean to use a life cycle approach in the context of plastic pollution. In this sense, a webinar on “What does a life-cycle approach applied to address marine litter and plastic pollution look like?” was held on 12 July, 2021.

Key Elements of a Life Cycle Approach to Plastics Pollution

Additional Information

Click the tabs below to view interactive illustrations, useful links and the final webinar programme.

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Hotspots, solutions, actors
Eco design Circular designFinance for circular solutionsIncrease recycling ratesExtended Producer Responsibility + modulated feesSustainable Public ProcurementEco-innovationEco-labels and standardsAwareness Raising

Eco design Circular design

Avoid toxic additives; design for reuse; mono-material design

Sustainable Public Procurement

Governments are recommended to set up Sustainable Public Procurement policies to support reusable options and products containing recycled content.

Eco-labels and standards


Awareness Raising

Increase consumer awareness through targeted and effective consumer campaigns, e.g., https://www.cleanseas.org/


Webinar full recording

Webinar slide deck

Additional webinar elements

Questions  Answers 
Are more long-term targets also included in the The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment? The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is already thinking about what is beyond 2025, but no targets have been set yet. The 2025 time-line was set in 2015 to pick the lowest hanging fruits: showing that reuse is manageable and possible and a big part of the solution. 
How are health effects (e.g., from toxins) and additives (chemicals, nano and micro) addressed in LCA of plastics?  Life Cycle Assessment addresses almost all types of environmental (LCA) issues, including issues related to toxicity. This is probably one of the most challenging impact categories: there are many challenges in assessing the toxicity of substances related to plastics. On the one hand, very little is known of the additives that are in plastic. With plastics that are at the end-of-life that come from all sorts of uses, the challenge is even bigger. At the other hand, modelling the potential impacts of those additives depends on so many other things, such as the type of waste treatment, the type of technology, and whether the substances will become to pose a risk to human health. 
So yes, this is taken into account in LCA but it is not simple at all and there certainly is a need for much more information. One key aspect would be: if those additives that are most problematic are avoided to begin with, that will facilitate LCA and reduce the impacts. 
On a scientific basis: what role do the SDG 12 indicators play in the The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, or what is needed to make them useful, e.g., disaggregation, etc. There is no direct interrelation between SDGs and the Global Commitment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recognizes the circular economy as one of the solutions to address climate change and biodiversity loss, responsible consumption and other SDGs are part of this over-arching ambition that the Global Commitment has. 
What is the importance of education and sensitization in building a circular economy for plastics? Education is pivotal, not only for the consumer but also for organizations such as the South African Plastics Pact, to be able to disseminate this knowledge in a way that it can be digested by anyone. In the South Africa Plastics Pact, a lot of time is spent on communication and communication campaigns have been developed. Many of the members of the South Africa Plastics Pact communicate with the consumer with on-pack recycling labels. The South Africa Plastics Pact is trying to make these labels more streamlined and easier to understand. As we move forward and implement alternative business models, we need to be asking ourselves how we can make this information available and understandable to everyone to broaden participation. 
Can all common types of single-use plastic be recycled? For example: cutlery, straws, styrofoam takeout boxes, coffee cups, bags, bottles, and masks? Or is the approach NOT to recycle those and simply to refuse? The approach of the single use plastics law in Chile is to refuse and eliminate those items. The single use plastics law basically says that it is important to realize, accept and admit that some types of plastics are very difficult to be recycled in practice. Recycling is not a solution for everything just like composting is not a solution for everything. There is no silver bullet, plastics pollution is a very complex problem, and different solutions are needed for each specific area that is being tackled. 
How will or is the SA Plastics Pact including waste pickers in decision-making? Waste pickers are the backbone of the recycling industry in South Africa. The African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) are currently represented on the South African Plastics Pact steering committee and there are existing and planned partnerships going forward. The South African Plastics Pact is committed to working with the informal sector to facilitate and promote fair and decent work. 
What advice or tips would Deshanya from the South African Plastics Pact give the youth of South Africa, in terms of trying to get as many people as possible aware of the issue of plastic pollution and the importance of reusable products. What can the youth do, what can individuals do to help to get businesses and people on this path?You cannot underestimate the impact of one person wanting to make a change. That person can always start a systemic change no matter how big or small they are. Education is of course very important, and it should be promoted in terms of letting everyone understand the resource consumption of packaging and food items that you are consuming on a day-to-day basis. But the key is to start with small steps before you go on to make a systemic change. There is always a small step that can be done, whether its separation at source in your own home, getting your neighbors to do it etc. You don’t have to see it as a huge monstrous task, start with something small and spread it to those around you. 
Guillermo (Head of Circular Economy, Ministry of Environment, Chile), do you think you will need to create your own compostable certification as the ISO standards are not so effective?In the Chilean single-use plastic law it is required that take away products can only use compostable plastics (if they are made of plastics). The same law says that a national certification needs to be created for that. Of course, this certification will build on the international standards. Generating a local standard is key because it should be avoided that compostable plastics that are not really compostable or biodegradable will end up in the organics streams, which would then result in loads of microplastics in the soil. 

Final Programme

5’Opening remarksTessa Goverse, Head of Pollution-Free Ecosystems Unit, UNEP
35’A Life Cycle Approach to Plastic Pollution

Key elements: 1. quantifying hotspots; 2. Defining holistic solutions (e.g. assessed with LCA); 3. Coordinate actors along the value chain responsible for the actions and 4. Prioritise actions; 5. Measure, monitor and report progress towards common goals

Specific examples in UNEP work for those elements
Llorenç Milà i Canals, Head of Secretariat, Life Cycle Initiative (UNEP)

Gerald Naber, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
5’Example 1 (focusing on one or two of the elements above): Country addressing plastic pollution across the life cycle / using life cycle approachesGuillermo González Caballero, Head of Circular Economy Department, Ministry of Environment, Chile
5’Example 2 (focusing on one or two of the elements above): Multi-stakeholder partnershipDeshanya Naidoo, South Africa Plastics Pact
5’Example 3 (focusing on one or two of the elements above): IndustryTom Szaky, Founder and CEO of TerraCycle and Loop
30’Q&A + interventions from stakeholders sharing their experiences with applying a life-cycle approach to plastic pollutionAudience
5’Wrap-up, concluding remarksElisa Tonda, Head of Consumption and Production Unit, UNEP