Zero Waste Policy Roadmap for a Plastic-Free Future

Plastic pollution is a global crisis causing extensive public health and ecological adversities. Single-use plastics are the most pervasive plastic pollutants that contain hazardous substances and that slowly break down into smaller particles that stay in the environment. Plastic is largely made from fossil fuels, and production is expected to increase by more than 30% over the next decade. At a current national recycling rate of 5%, recycling won’t ever be able to keep pace with the production or generation of single-use plastics. Many policies currently focus on how to manage waste once generated. But to address the full extent of the plastic pollution crisis, comprehensive policy strategies are needed that account for the full life cycle of plastics and remediate the problem upstream where it’s created.

This roadmap is intended to strengthen the analysis of policy solutions so that decision-makers can transform our waste system into a just, toxic-free, circular economy. To do this, the roadmap connects policy solutions to environmental justice and climate goals. Each of the five sections within the roadmap (shown below) contains equity and justice considerations and key policy options. The policies highlighted have been identified using criteria that: (1) centers justice and equity, (2) prevents further petrochemical buildout, (3) protects public health, (4) avoids regrettable substitutions, (5) drives momentum away from resource extraction.

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.

Report reveals human health risks of polyvinyl chloride
(PVC) plastic, recommending state and local officials avoid using the material for their communities’ water pipes.

The discovery of unsafe levels of lead in drinking water in communities across the country is so pervasive that in November 2021, Congress made $15 billion available to states and municipalities to replace lead service lines (the pipes that deliver water to our homes, schools, and businesses). 

Although the decision to replace those lead lines is very positive, it’s equally important to ensure that the replacement piping material will not simply create a new set of adverse health and environmental impacts. The data on the safety of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic piping raises serious concerns about replacing metal pipes with PVC plastic pipes. The risk of leaching chemicals that are harmful to human health is real. There is evidence that this may occur, and the testing necessary to prove otherwise is either inadequate or nonexistent.

Communities that opt to replace their lead service lines with PVC plastic pipes may well be leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Although we strongly support the replacement of lead service lines, we need to know that the replacement piping material is safe. 

In the absence of guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s to state and local governments on the safety of various replacement piping materials, Beyond Plastics commissioned the well-respected science writer Meg Wilcox to look at the published literature and examine this issue. What Wilcox found is eye-opening and raises concerns that should be considered by the state and local officials who are deciding what type of pipes will be used in their communities. The residents who drink and bathe in these public water supplies should also be aware of the dangers posed by PVC service pipes.

The report has been compiled with additional resources and insights from Beyond Plastics, Environmental Health Sciences, and Plastic Pollution Coalition.

This thesis by Christine Bühler at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland, compares the legal solutions regulating disposables in the European Union (EU), Canada, and Switzerland. It analyzes whether they explicitly intend or implicitly are capable of reducing environmental burdens caused by producing, using, and disposing of such goods. The research findings illustrate that numerous existing legal solutions are beneficial for preventing environmental harm, yet, many of them should be revised in order to have an even greater impact.

In the journal Nature, journalist Tosin Thompson interviews experts making strong recommendations for the global Plastics Treaty addressing pollution, and recycling, social and health implications.

Sowing a Plastic Planet: How Microplastics in Agrochemicals Are Affecting Our Soils, Our Food, and Our Future exposes the growing use of microplastics in agrochemical products, the industry’s promotion of this practice, and its threats to human health and the environment. It concludes that, in the face of known risks and the significant probability that plastic-coated fertilizers and pesticides only add to existing harm from toxic chemicals and microplastic, their production and use should be banned.