What can policy makers and stakeholders do?


1. Give economic incentives to support recycled plastics markets

Recycling has an important role to play in lowering the environmental footprint of plastics, diverting material from more harmful waste management practices and helping to decrease demand for primary equivalents. Yet, despite its strong growth from 6.8 Mt in 2000 to 29.1 Mt in 2019, secondary plastics from recycling, currently only account for 6% of the feedstock for new plastics produced globally. The market share of secondary plastics is projected to double by 2060.

Plastics are only recycled on a large scale if it is profitable to do so. Regulation strongly affects the business case for recycling and the market for secondary plastics. Economic and regulatory policy instruments can give incentives to ensure the financial viability of collecting and recycling plastic waste. Moreover, incentivising sorting at source is a critical lever because the quality of sorting determines the purity and value of recycled materials, and therefore the profitability of recycling operations.


2. Do more to boost innovation for a more circular plastics lifecycle

Innovation can deliver significant environmental benefits throughout the lifecycle of plastics, for example by reducing the amount of virgin material needed, prolonging the useful life of materials and facilitating recycling. An analysis of patent and trademark data done for this report shows that innovation for more sustainable plastics is increasing, with patented technologies in this area multiplying by a factor of 3.4 over 1990-2017.

Although innovation in environmentally relevant plastics technologies is growing, it still only makes up a minor share of all plastics-related innovation. Innovation in waste prevention and recycling accounted for only 1.2% of plastics innovation in 2017. More ambitious policies are needed to orient technological change towards closing plastics loops and reducing leakage to the environment.





3. Strengthen the ambition of domestic policies

Public policies are a key lever for reducing the environmental consequences of plastics use, but the current plastics policy landscape is fragmented and can be strengthened significantly. To make the lifecycle of plastics more circular and structurally reduce leakage, a policy roadmap for countries is proposed with three increasingly ambitious phases: 1. close leakage pathways, 2. create incentives for recycling & sorting at source 3. Restrain demand & design for circularity.

While with business-as-usual, global plastics use, waste and related environmental damages are projected to increase by 2060, timely and ambitious policies can drastically reduce future environmental damages and in particular plastic leakage to the environment. The level of ambition of the policies and of international engagement will determine the extent to which plastic pollution is reduced.

The Global Plastics Outlook compares two policy scenarios with different levels of stringency.
The Regional Action policy scenario reflects regionally differentiated engagement, with more ambitious targets for OECD countries than for non-OECD countries, while the Global Ambition policy scenario explores a very stringent policy package that aims to reduce plastic leakage to near zero by 2060 globally.








4. Strengthen international co-operation to make plastics value chains more circular and achieve net zero plastic leakage

The design process of globally traded plastic materials and products needs to consider the health and environmental impacts across the life-cycle and embed approaches such as sustainable chemistry thinking in order to detoxify material loops and improve the circularity of materials. Policy interventions and co-operation across borders are needed to support this process.

Alongside upstream preventative measures, the international community has recognised improving waste management to reduce land-based sources of marine plastic as a priority for action,. Since the bulk of mismanaged waste occurs in low and middle-income countries, the investments needed in these countries are particularly large. Official development assistance (ODA) could be one avenue to support developing countries in this process. However, the share of plastic-related ODA in total ODA spending remains marginal, accounting for only 0.2% of ODA gross commitments in 2017-2019. Moreover, the available budgets are only a fraction of total financing needs. Additional sources of funding will need to be tapped into. Local political leadership as well as International support will be crucial to put in place policy frameworks and governance mechanisms that provide adequate and sustainable levels of funding.




Read more:

- The current plastics lifecycle is far from circular

- Plastic leakage and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing

- Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short, says OECD (news release)

- Back to plastics main page


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