Title: Towards a Global Plastics Protocol: Policy Solutions for Closing the Loop on Plastics
Project Members: Lexie Carr, Eamonn Fetherston, Tom Makled, and Lauren Meyer
Advisor - Prof. Shelie Miller
The plastics packaging industry faces enormous environmental challenges regarding sustainable materials sourcing, recycling, and waste prevention. Over 90% of plastics produced are derived from virgin fossil feedstocks, which accounts for roughly 6% of global oil consumption. Additionally, it is estimated that at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean every year, posing risks to both marine life and human populations that depend on them. In order to reduce plastic waste and promote circularity in plastics production and consumption, systemic changes must be undertaken through the passing of domestic and international policies that facilitate the recovery and recyclability of plastics worldwide.
In this project, we examine policy instruments from around the world that have been implemented to reduce plastic pollution and increase recycling rates, with the goal of providing the packaging industry with insights and recommendations regarding the pros and cons of different policy options. Our research spans “command and control” and “market-based” policies that target different points of the plastic packaging value chain and identifies the regulatory, economic and infrastructural factors that influence the effectiveness of each policy. Additionally, we explore the relationship between these policy options and various waste management strategies, including true recycling, waste-to-energy, and managed landfills. Our findings indicate that policies that incorporate the use of well-designed financial incentives and that can feasibly be enforced have the strongest potential to decrease plastic pollution and increase recycling rates. Ultimately, however, the systemic nature of plastic pollution and recycling necessitates a combined suite of policy options that must be tailored to the specific context of the country in which they are being implemented.
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