Plastic pollution is a global problem. Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped. Plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes, directly affecting millions of people’s livelihoods. Inger Andersen, executive director UN Environment Programme already mentioned it: “We will not recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis: we need a systemic transformation to achieve the transition to a circular economy.” The endorsement of UN Member States during UNEA 5.2 to End Plastic Pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024, is a very important step. But how do we achieve the systematic transformation?
The role of the Life Cycle Initiative in the International Negotiating Committee Process
The first step in the Committee Process is the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), which took place in Dakar (Senegal) between 30 May and 1 June 2022. A key element of the resolution relates to the engagement of all relevant stakeholders across the “full life cycle of plastics”. The Life Cycle Initiative has co-convened a series of Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues during the OEWG, along with the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) and the Green Growth Institute (GGGI). Online and onsite participants of different stakeholder groups have shared their perspectives during the Dialogues, focusing on the science behind the key actions along the plastics life cycle, upstream, midstream and downstream parts of the plastics value chain, and cross-cutting topics such as the participation of youth and consumers, finance and the socially just transition. For the full programme: https://bit.ly/DialoguesPlastic
Watch the 3 minutes summary of the Dialogues of 29 and 30 May below:
The full life cycle of plastic needs to be addressed
Addressing plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, requires a new way of thinking that looks at the entire life cycle of plastics. A life cycle approach to plastic ensures the identification of key hotspots in the production and consumption system by considering all potential impacts (on climate, ecosystems, toxicity, jobs, economy, etc.) caused by plastic products, services (and their alternatives), in each stage of their life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials, processing of secondary materials, to product manufacture, distribution, maintenance and use, and end of life management. In this way, a life cycle approach also helps addressing potential trade-offs between environmental impacts and sustainability pillars and can orient the selection of the best solutions for the environment with best socio-economic implications.
Key Elements of a Life Cycle Approach to Beat Plastic Pollution
We need to ensure that substitutes for plastic dot not result in negative environmental impacts In most cases, Life Cycle Assessment studies suggest that substitution of single-use plastic products by single-use products made of other materials is not a useful outcome. (See those reports for more discussion on this issue). Shifting to reuse schemes (which also need to be made possible) is more effective.
Development of global ‘REUSE PORTAL’ for scaling reuse
With only 9% of global plastic waste being recycled, managing waste once it’s generated is not nearly enough. How can we scale waste prevention solutions focused on reuse? WWF, the Life Cycle Initiative and the World Economic Forum are partnering with stakeholders around the world to create a one-stop-shop Reuse Portal designed to provide practical, action-oriented tools and networks to scale reuse solutions. Who can engage? The Portal is an open collaboration platform welcoming stakeholders from all regions and walks of life – innovators, large and small businesses, policymakers, activists, experts, consumers and citizens. The platform will serve not only as a global ‘centre of excellence’ providing credible guidance and inspiring with best practices; it is also designed to enable national and local stakeholders to take action and accelerate reuse solutions in their organisations and communities. Here you will find more information.
We need to ensure that substitutes for plastid dot not result in negative environmental impacts
In most cases, Life Cycle Assessment studies suggest that substitution of single-use products by single-use products made of other materials is not a useful outcome. See the following report for more discussion on this issue: https://www.lifecycleinitiative.org/activities/key-programme-areas/technical-policy-advice/single-use-plastic-products-studies. Shifting to reuse schemes (which also need to be made possible) is more effective.