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. 

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.

Abstract: “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

Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), a non-profit organization of physicians and public health professionals, is releasing its newly published research report on the dangers of plastics and microplastics to the environment and to health. The report calls for sweeping policy initiatives that need to be enacted by international, federal, state, and city governments, as well as calling on corporations to institute new policies that will better protect the public from harmful plastic and microplastic exposures.

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.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation outlines key reuse models for businesses and governments to engage with in efforts to address the plastic crisis. Key reuse models covered in the report include: refilling at home, refilling on the go, returning from home, and returning on the go. The report includes dozens of examples of reuse across sectors spanning home and personal care, transport packaging, grocery, beverages, cup solutions, and takeaway and ready meals.