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 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.

Understanding individual and community behavior change (along with systemic change) is key to determining effective and sustainable drivers of change in the use of plastics: this research sheds some light. Only a few studies undertaken which have primarily focused on the theory of planned behavior and plastic waste. To help support more sustainable and effective plastic use and waste management policy, it is recommended that future research focus on behavioral aspects of the plastic–people relationship with a focus on the “Behavior Change Wheel and the Capability, Opportunity and Motivation” model (COM-B), to advance current understanding of individuals’ behaviors relating to plastic use and waste. It is suggested that understanding the behavioral elements of the people–plastic relationship is fundamental to identifying effective and sustainable changes in behavior and the guidance, policies, opportunities, and restrictions that can help achieve change.

Photo credit: Wooden Earth Cutlery

There is virtually nowhere on Earth today that remains untouched by plastic and ecosystems are evolving to adapt to this new context. While plastics have revolutionized our modern world, new and often unforeseen effects of plastic and its production are continually being discovered. Plastics are entangled in multiple ecological and social crises, from the plasticization of the oceans to the embeddedness of plastics in political hierarchies.

The complexities surrounding the global plastic crisis require an interdisciplinary approach and the materialities of plastic demand new temporalities of thought and action. Plastic Legacies brings together scholars from the fields of marine biology, psychology, anthropology, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and media studies to investigate and address the urgent socio-ecological challenges brought about by plastics. Contributors consider the unpredictable nature of plastics and weigh actionable solutions and mitigation processes against the ever-changing situation. Moving beyond policy changes, this volume offers a critique of neoliberal approaches to tackling the plastics crisis and explores how politics and communicative action are key to implementing social, cultural, and economic change.

Editors: Trisia Farrelly, Sy Taffel, Ian Shaw

Contributors: Sasha Adkins, Sven Bergmann, Stephanie Borrelle, Tridibesh Dey, Eva Giraud, Christina Gerhardt, John Holland, Deidre McKay, Laura McLauchlan, Mike Michael, Imogen Napper, Tina Ngata, Sabine Pahl, Padmapani L. Perez, Jennifer Provencher, Elyse Stanes, Johanne Tarpgaard, Richard Thompson, and Lei Xiaoyu.