Policy makers have an essential role to play in driving change towards improved management of plastics. Through our ongoing research, this guidance page is continuously updated.
Acceptance and buy-in are paramount for effective plastic policies.
Policies that attempt to impose a top-down intervention without sufficient public support tend to resort to strong enforcement, which in some cases results in widespread discontent and noncompliance. Extensive sensitisation through targeted education and awareness raising activities, as well as direct opportunities for ongoing involvement, is required to create equitable and effective policies that garner public support.
Filling evidence gaps
Sound evidence related to the impacts and effectiveness of plastic related policies should be prioritised.
Major evidence gaps exist within the plastic policy landscape, particularly around how plastics policy is formulated. This includes how the policy is financed, implemented and how stakeholders are involved. There is an urgent need to fill evidence gaps to identify effective practice in plastic policy development.
Evidence to demonstrate policy effectiveness needs standardisation.
A consistent, standardised approach to measuring effectiveness across plastics policy, would enable better understanding of the types of policy that are most successful. A standard monitoring method, with data published for the same time periods, would allow different plastic policy types to be directly compared. Consistent data collection of plastic policies around the globe also needs to be combined with international standardisation — this may emerge from the United Nations’ process to develop an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. Data collection protocols will need to be supported by sufficient financing to enable coordination nationally, regionally and internationally.
Monitoring and evaluation
An agreed method for tracking progress should be built into all policies.
Plastics policies should include clearly defined monitoring and evaluation measures that are agreed by stakeholders. This is currently missing from most plastics policies, which creates ambiguity in claims of policy success and undermines any attempt to refine policies based on their current performance. Efficient monitoring and evaluation not only allows a nation or business to track progress, it offers potential to unlock investment, particularly in areas where progress is seen.
Policy effectiveness reporting should be transparent and accessible for public scrutiny.
Transparent information improves shared knowledge and enables public and stakeholder buy-in. Where there is a lack of transparency, policy making is hindered by misconceptions about policy effectiveness. For example, published recycling rates tend to include exported plastic waste, with no indication of whether the plastic waste has been recycled at destination. This skews perceptions of how waste is managed globally.
Coordinated policy approaches are more effective than isolated, standalone actions.
A coordinated approach to policy making is crucial as plastic policy types are highly interlinked in the way that they impact the different stages of the plastics lifecycle, and at present their level of integration is lacking. A balanced policy mix that addresses the entire plastics lifecycle, with a focus on circularity and reduced reliance on virgin material, is more likely to be effective than individual policies focused on downstream actions.
Effective plastics policy requires careful consideration of context.
While policy analysis can provide valuable insight into what policies are effective and why, there is a need for consideration of contextual nuance. Plastic is indispensable to the modern way of living — policies should factor in the necessities of plastic when a particular activity is best enabled with its use, but this should be combined with careful consideration of social, economic and environmental impacts. Sensitivity to national or local context is imperative when developing a plastic policy. This can be supported through extensive public engagement, stakeholder involvement, baseline monitoring and longer-term monitoring of policy progress to ensure a flexible and meaningful approach.