plastic pollution

Addressing the Issue of Plastic Pollution

On the heels of a challenging year dominated by the COVID pandemic, the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) and its partner governments have met critical milestones, including:

  • Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Viet Nam came together as early adopters in the Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership
  • Ghana committed to a 100% circular economy for plastics

“Plastic pollution was already a global emergency, and with the pandemic-induced explosion in packaged goods, as well as increased of use of single-use plastics through masks, gloves and other PPE, it has become a global disaster,” said Kristin Hughes, GPAP Director and a member of the WEF Executive Committee. “The good news is that our GPAP 2021 impact report proves that what we’re doing works, and if we act together now, we can halt the plastic pollution crisis in its tracks.” connected with Kristin Huges for a more in-depth look at the work GPAP is doing. Our Q&A follows.

What is the Global Plastic Action Partnership? 

The Global Plastic Action Partnership is a public-private partnership aiming GPAP is the World Economic Forum’s multistakeholder platform for shaping a more sustainable and inclusive world through the eradication of plastic pollution.

GPAP was created in 2018 by a group of public, private and civil society leaders with the World Economic Forum because they believed that when we come together, we can create real impact and real change.

Working with all of these organisations at the global and national level, GPAP delivers insights that help governments, companies, and individuals take the steps they need to turn commitments on plastic pollution into action with tangible results.

Our work to reduce plastic pollution and waste is underpinned by the transition to a circular economy for plastics, which directly addresses the root cause of plastic pollution by replacing the “take-use-dispose” model with a closed-looped approach throughout the plastics life cycle. 

We focus on 6 impact areas:

  1. informing policy
  2. unlocking finance
  3. transforming behaviour
  4. boosting innovation
  5. harmonizing metrics
  6. promoting inclusivity

How serious is the issue of dumping plastic? 

The issue of plastic ending up in nature due to poor behaviour and lack of infrastructure to manage the amount of plastic waste we generate is indeed very serious and is something that has only become worse due to the COVID pandemic. We know that at least 8 million tonnes of plastic waste flow into the ocean every year. Under the ‘business-as-usual’ approach, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. The issue has only been exacerbated by COVID. As restaurants and shops shut down and governments issued ‘shelter-at-home’ orders, many ordered food deliveries, purchased groceries online, and switched to disposable utensils for convenience and for reassurance, we saw the rise of single-use plastic. Many communities are not set up to manage the collection and recycling of this plastic so at best it ends up in landfills, but more often it flows into the environment ending in water sources and eventually the sea.

What are the consequences of ignoring this issue? 

The plastic pollution crisis has ballooned over the past decade, but the good news is that awareness of this issue has also risen very sharply among the public. Only 14% of the plastic packaging used globally is recycled. Plastics entering the marine environment is set to double by 2040; without action, more than 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste will be dumped on land and in water bodies, and more than 2.2 billion tonnes will be open burned. Since 1950, the world has created 6.5 billion tonnes of plastic waste, 91% of which has not been recycled. Even if current recycling commitments are met, the plastics entering the ocean is on course to rise from 11 million tonnes now to 29 million tonnes by 2040.

Plastics are undeniably essential, versatile, and affordable; they are the bedrock of medical equipment and protective gear, keeping our frontline workers safe. But there is also a worrying trend: demand for disposable plastic products, driven by the fear of viral transmission, is skyrocketing. While the capacity to deal safely with these materials after use, however, is not.

What is considered global best practices for addressing the issue?

A number of countries have worked with us to develop a roadmap of action to engage in addressing the plastic pollution issue. There is not a single actor or single action that can solve this problem; rather the approach much be systemic, and a myriad of players must engage to wholistically address plastic pollution. In terms of best practices, I would suggest that countries that are taking the steps first to analyse the situation and understand the issue are moving in the right direction. Building on this analysis, we recommend a number of steps be taken upstream and down to support a transition to a circular economy for plastics.

A few of the action areas include:

  • reducing and substituting avoidable plastic use
  • redesigning plastic products and packaging for the purpose of reuse or recycling
  • increasing the collection of plastic waste
  • increasing recycling capacity
  • expanding safe waste disposal facilities to process the existing plastic that can’t be recycled

Which countries around the world are taking a leadership role to mitigate this issue?

At the Global Plastic Action Partnership, we are currently working with four countries, including Indonesia and Viet Nam in South East Asia and Ghana and Nigeria in Africa. Yesterday we also announced a partnership with Pakistan which we are excited to see engage. These countries are each working with us to take bold steps to address plastic pollution.

How effective are their practices? 

We are already seeing some reduction in Indonesia as well as investments being made in the country aligned with the recommendations in our action roadmap. Investments have been committed in innovation upstream as well as recycling facilities to support better action downstream. Similarly, Ghana will publish its action roadmap soon and we understand the government is already taking positive steps to bring investments into the country to better support its waste management and promote behaviour change campaigns that will encourage a shift away from the linear take-use-dispose approach and transition more into a circular economy for plastics.

Which African countries are taking a leadership role? 

We are currently working with Ghana as well as Nigeria in developing platforms for action to address the issue of plastic pollution. Together, with ministries like the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana and the Federal Ministry of Environment for Nigeria we are co-creating solutions that will enable the governments to address the plastic pollution problem and promote a circular economy for plastics.

What role do various stakeholders have to play – individuals, communities, private sector, etc? 

Everyone has a role to play. There is not one single actor who can solve this issue. Plastic pollution is truly an issue in which every segment of society needs to step up and play its part. Governments need to set targets and implement programs that will lead to concrete changes and create incentives that shape a positive environment for investing in steps aligned with plastic waste reduction. Businesses need to transition to greener supply chains; consumer goods companies, for example, need to redesign their packaging to use plastics alternatives or plastics that are recycled and recyclable. We are already seeing new business models spring to life, including reuse and refill types of businesses that encourage a circular economy for plastics. Consumers must adopt the principles of ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’ into their daily lifestyles. We have become a society that likes ease and comfort but we as consumers also have an important role to play in reducing plastic waste.  Investors must inject funding into innovations and solutions that have the potential to scale up impact dramatically while also looking to new infrastructure engagement opportunities like recycling plants versus the traditional roads and bridges types of investments.

What are the economics of this work? 

In Indonesia, we worked closely with the government, academia, civil society and private sector to create a national action plan for reducing marine plastic debris by 70%. We have since produced a financing roadmap for how to mobilize the $18 billion needed in funding to fully implement this plan, and we are moving these recommended actions forward through five locally-led Task Forces. So we know that significant investments are required to support the efforts of leading governments aiming to address this issue, but the consequences of ignoring the situation and avoiding the necessary investment will end in far worse circumstances.

Who is paying to clean up the oceans? 

At the Global Plastic Action Partnership, we are focused more on land-based solutions aiming to address the issue at source. A number of donor organisations and governments are supporting these efforts to assist those countries looking to address the issue and take action for positive impact. Greater investment is needed to ensure we can turn the tide on plastic pollution. Through our national plastic action partnership model we bring together the most influential and committed decision-makers, experts and changemakers to develop a joint approach to tackling plastic pollution in every country – an approach that is locally led, locally driven, and puts the livelihoods and wellbeing of people and communities at the forefront. We still have a lot of work cut out for us and we welcome the engagement and collaboration – from others whether representing the public or the private sector, civil society, academia or international organisations.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership is Making an Impact in Fighting Plastic Pollution

  • GPAP annual impact report illustrates the importance of turning the tide on plastic pollution through collaboration and public-private partnership
  • Despite progress, ocean plastic flows are expected to triple by 2040
  • Sustained collaborative action could stem the tide by more than 80%
  • Read the full report

Learn about the Forum’s impact

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