Global Plastic Policy Reviews

Key Findings

From our analysis of 100 policies, there were 3 key findings. To learn how these translate into guidance for policy makers, businesses, and citizens, go to our Guidance pages.

Key Finding 1

Lack of monitoring and evaluation of plastics policy effectiveness

The framework was not applied to some policies due to a complete absence of publicly available evidence. This may be because no policy monitoring has taken place or because the monitoring evidence that does exist  is not publicly available. 

 

  1. There are persistent gaps in evidence across all plastic policy types, most notably:

    • Steps taken towards policy formulation
    • Amount of direct plastic removal from the environment through clean ups
    • Impact on waste exports and imports
    • How stakeholders were engaged in policy formulation
    • Monetary cost of policy implementation
    • Long term financing commitments to support policy implementation
    • Monitoring and evaluation of the process and the impact of the policy
    • Social burden on society

     

  2. Despite evidence of their existence, many policies were not publicly accessible. Without access to original policy documents, it was impossible to verify its objectives, intent or approach, nor make an evidence-based assessment of its effectiveness. This also constraints public accountability.

  3. Transparency from the business perspective is significantly lacking. Unlike governmental policies, business initiatives are voluntary commitments. Less accountability exists and therefore there are no current requirements for industry to make their data publicly available.
  4. Policies from before 2017 had little evidence to analyse from even though they have been in place for over five years. This speaks to a wider culture of an absence or lack of monitoring and reporting on the effectiveness of policies.

     

  5. It was expected that policies implemented from 2019 onwards would have significant data limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020. To an extent, this was observed from the 20 policies that were implemented post 2019, nearly half had no available evidence to analyse. However, this fits the wider pattern of data availability overall suggesting that COVID-19 pandemic has had a limited impact on evidence, because robust evidence bases are rare anyway.

Key Finding 2

Identification of critical enablers

We found that certain approaches or qualities of the policy really supported their effectiveness. Through examining the critical enablers of all the policies reviewed, we found that several were important to all plastics policy types:

Key Findings Diagram

Leadership and commitment

This was the most important enabler identified that can facilitate many other enabling factors. Strong leadership begins at the policy development stage, allocation of the required financing, consistent messaging throughout implementation, and a clear plan of action.

Public buy-in and acceptance

Public support for a policy before it is implemented drives increased compliance and cooperation.

Education and awareness raising

Public awareness campaigns can enhance citizen appreciation of the need for a policy. Clear communication of a policy’s conditions can educate citizens e.g. the types of single-use plastic products to avoid in a SUPPs ban. Such efforts can then garner better compliance.

Stakeholder engagement

Ensuring that citizens and businesses are part of the policy making process is important for reaching equitable decisions, ensuring that burdens are not shouldered disproportionately, and facilitating acceptance prior to policy implementation.

Enforcement

For legally binding policies, enforcement can drive compliance either through incentives, punitive measures or consistent monitoring and control.

Data collection and monitoring

A constant challenge is the lack of available data upon which to analyse objectively the success of plastics policies. Accurate and transparent data collection is vital for transparency and accountability. Missing or misleading information can lead to accusations of greenwashing and erosion of public engagement and trust.

The use of time bound and quantitative objectives

Clear objectives that can be monitored and assessed are key to tracking progress, prompting timely action and generating public support. These should be specific, and not based on vague baselines.

Key Finding 3

Integration of policies is lacking

Plastics policies are highly dependent on one another and upon related policies focused on climate, health, labour, and production.

Figure. Interdependencies between policy areas.

Interdependencies between policy areas. Arrow direction indicates the influence one policy type (arrow source) has on another (arrow head).

Interdependencies exist between policy areas. For example, taxes on single use plastic products may be implemented to encourage a reduction of plastic production and consumption prior to a single use plastics ban. Information instruments can lead to the development of deposit return schemes, increased recycling practices, or even a direct ban on single use plastic products and plastic bags. EPR informs product redesign whilst also paving the way for deposit return schemes. Affirmative action policies provide greater information and awareness. They can also contribute to product redesign and put pressure on companies and governments to enact EPR schemes and improve recycling and waste management systems.

End of life policies are often more complex, and require all earlier stages of the plastic life cycle to be in sync to be effective. For example, a deposit return scheme or newly designed product that is completely recyclable is only effective when a sufficient recycling scheme exists to support it. This highlights the importance of effectively implemented recycling strategies to support the delivery of other policy areas such as EPR, DRS, product redesign and affirmative action. Product redesign, particularly where a product has been made more recyclable, depends upon effective recycling facilities. The same is true vice-versa – for example:

  1. Deposit Return schemes provide a well sorted supply of plastic waste products for recycling.
  2. Products can be designed to use materials that make them easy to recycle, to generate a wider feedstock.
  3. Extended producer responsibility can provide motivation for better product design to include a minimum recycled content, which generates the demand for recycled materials over virgin plastic.

The links between policy types demonstrates the problems generated by the implementation of isolated policy and legislation rather than taking a more holistic approach.

Policies in the existing plastics policy sphere tend to focus on two distinct areas of the plastics life cycle:

  • Consumption of plastic (downstream)
  • End of life (downstream)

Policies like EPR and some industry commitments address the upstream parts of the plastic life cycle, but focus in this area is limited. There is much emerging policy in upstream interventions but the existing policies in this area fail to address the scale of the problem. There are almost no existing policies which focus on the extraction of natural resources, including oil and gas, or the polymerisation processes used to produce plastics.

Table: Stage of plastic lifecycle that policies reviewed address.
Stage of plastic lifestyle
Pre-production
  • Extraction
  • Raw materials
  • Polymerisation
Upstream
  • Production
Midstream
  • Design
Downstream
  • Consumption
  • Distribution
  • Disposal
Policy Type Bans on plastic bags
Bans on single use plastic products
Taxes
Producer accountability
Recycling/waste management
Affirmative Action
Information Instruments
Pacts
Industry Commitments

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