Making Reuse a Reality: A systems approach to tackling single-use plastic pollution

The Making Reuse a Reality Report brings together research and key evidence from interviews. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of reuse strategies, drawing on a diverse range of global perspectives and experience. Reuse presents an opportunity to move away from the existing linear take-make-waste, single-use packaging economy. 

Ahead of the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, Pacific Environment has released a report that underscores the serious threats of plastic pollution, and presents a new global model showing how the plastics and petrochemical industries will need to change in order to stay within the 1.5 degree Celsius target to secure a liveable and sustainable future.

Despite its climate and environmental impacts, plastic production and consumption is still growing. Petrochemicals are the number-one driver for global oil demand and will account for half of the oil consumption by 2050 per the International Energy Agency. Given current trends, the life cycle emissions of the plastics sector could exceed  the carbon budget by at least three times by 2050 and comprise 16% of the planetary boundary of 400 Gt CO2e.

This is why action needs to be taken now. Specifically, we must reduce plastic by at least 75% and phase out single-use plastic by 2040 in order to align the plastic industry with the 1.5 degree Celsius climate target.

The report, titled “Stemming the Plastic-Climate Crisis: Paris Alignment for Plastics Requires at least 75% Reduction,” has been released to sound the alarm on plastics and start a discourse at the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) in May 2023 emphasizing the need for a Global Plastics Treaty that actually reduces plastic.

Plastic pollution is much more than an ocean issue, and it has consequences that cannot be assigned a monetary cost, such as the value of life on Earth or widespread harm to human health. That said, financial costs of plastic pollution do include affect tourism, impacting places with tourism-centered economies—such as Tanzania and Zanzibar. The objective of this study is to assess and valuate the costs of environmental degradation from marine plastic pollution, identify and prioritize critical areas and issues, and provide recommendations for effective marine plastic pollution control in select coastal areas in Tanzania and Zanzibar.

While solutions to plastic pollution have focused on clean-up strategies, these attempts are unable to compete with increasing quantities of plastic entering the environment. Reducing inputs of plastic to the environment must be prioritized through a global multidisciplinary approach. Mismanaged waste is a major land-based source of plastic pollution that can be reduced through improvements in the life-cycle of plastics, especially in production, consumption, and disposal, through an Integrated Waste Management System.

In this review paper, scientists discuss current practices to improve life cycle and waste management of plastics that can be implemented to reduce health and environmental impacts of plastics and reduce plastics pollution. Ten recommendations for stakeholders to reduce plastic pollution include (1) regulation of production and consumption; (2) eco-design; (3) increasing the demand for recycled plastics; (4) reducing the use of plastics; (5) use of renewable energy for recycling; (6) extended producer responsibility over waste; (7) improvements in waste collection systems; (8) prioritization of recycling; (9) use of bio-based and biodegradable plastics; and (10) improvement in recyclability of e-waste.

Recent polling conducted by Data for Progress demonstrates that likely voters are concerned about plastic pollution and its impact on our environment and oceans, and feel as though they are doing what they can do individually to combat pollution. However, voters believe that the plastics industry has the greatest responsibility and the most opportunity to combat plastic pollution, but lack confidence that the industry will enact change without standards for accountability. Consequently, we find strong support for a variety of measures that would reduce plastic pollution.