In what feels like a blink of an eye, the omnipresence of plastic waste has captured media attention and public awareness like never before. The unprecedented global alignment on prioritizing the management of plastic waste is akin to how the world embraced the seriousness of climate change. The bombardment of images of marine life ingesting plastic pollution has moved the conversation upstream from concerned citizens to the highest levels of governments and business, and to their supply and value chains.
Initiated in April 2018, the United Kingdom Plastics Pact has brought together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain, as well as governments and non-governmental organizations, to tackle plastic waste. The European Union published "A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy" that presents key commitments for action at the EU level. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is also uniting governments and global companies under "The New Plastics Economy - Rethinking the Future of Plastics." And closer to home, Canada hosted the G7 Summit in June 2018, which produced the Oceans Plastic Charter that will require Canada to develop a domestic strategy. When China suddenly closed the door on recycled material imports, it also served as a stark reminder that there's far too much waste, particularly in plastics, and emphasized the need to look both upstream and downstream for reduction solutions and new markets for recyclables.
While the collective focus on plastic waste is an opportunity for governments to enact policy and businesses to create value, we must be wise to ensure that next steps do not result in knee-jerk policymaking or market shifting that negates intentions. The desired outcome for new policy is to reduce waste through a transformation at each phase of the circular economy: collection, production and end-of-life management. Real solutions are rooted from adjustments at each phase, and no single point is solely responsible. In fact, success will depend on a multi-faceted approach.