The Spread of Plastic Bans and Regulations
"How do I tell (my children) that against all odds, you will find plastic at the very deepest point in the Pacific Ocean?” These were the words used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he announced a ban on single-use plastics in Canada by 2021. What began as a small trickle has now become a flood of countries that are announcing bans, regulations, and restrictions on single-use plastics, plastic bags, and plastic waste.
While these policies and regulations are welcome initiatives, their designs and implementations across countries are inconsistent. At Ubuntoo, we are working to assess the effectiveness of these measures across countries to identify best practices that can be widely adopted.
In this issue of your Ubuntoo Digest, we explore the complex landscape of government policies related to plastic waste. You can use your Ubuntoo login to find solutions that address these policies.
Plastic Waste Policies and Regulations
There is a wide range of policies with regard to plastic waste around the world. In this section, we summarize just a few of the most common and high impact ones. For a more comprehensive set of resources, articles, and news on this topic, you can visit the Plastic Regulations section in Ubuntoo Knowledge or view news items about the topic. We would like to acknowledge the World Resources Institute for some of the data presented below.
- Plastic Bags: At last count over 100 countries around the world have implemented policies to restrict the use, sale or distribution of single-use plastic bags. The most common is an outright ban on the manufacture, distribution, or retail sales of plastic bags below a certain thickness. Other policies include taxes or fees to make it more expensive to distribute free plastic bags by stores. Africa leads the way in a number of countries restricting plastic bags, while the Americas lag.
- Single-Use Plastics: these include plastic straws, cutlery, plates, cups, glasses, some forms of packaging. Over 50 countries have implemented or plan to implement some sort of ban or restriction on single-use plastics, with many more in the pipeline over the next few years. Some countries have imposed taxes, while others require a minimum recycled content.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Over 60 countries require manufacturers, distributors and/or retailers to set in place recovery, recycling, and disposal systems for the plastic waste that they generate. Some countries have industry-wide consortiums that ensure compliance with these laws.
- Deposit Refund Schemes: These are typically applied to beverage bottles, and are currently implemented in over 20 countries, predominantly in Europe. They operate like an EPR but include a refundable deposit that is charged from consumers at the time of retail sales.
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The UN Environment Programme in partnership with the World Resources Institute has compiled a report on the progress of countries in passing laws and regulations about selected single-use plastics and microplastics. You can download the report for free here: Legal limits on single-use plastics and microplastics.
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“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” - John Muir, Naturalist