National Action: to halt the leakage of waste to oceans from coastal nations
The topics of waste management and waste reduction also need to be tackled at national levels in each coastal country so that effective local approaches are implemented to reduce plastic emission levels to the minimum possible.
This strategy will have other local benefits such as improved health and increased numbers of jobs in the waste management, recycling and manufacturing sectors, and improved local landscape amenity.
National programmes can target the following actions:
- The introduction of sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic packaging through the development of re-useable products or the selection of other materials such as card, paper or vegetable products that can be readily recycled or composted. The introduction of the recent plastic bag tax in UK and the consequent large reduction in bag usage shows how effectively and rapidly consumers and businesses can react to economic incentives and disincentives.
- Raising the demand for recycled materials by providing incentives such as reductions in Goods and Services Tax on recycled content products. This would help make these products more competitive and drive the demand for the collection of available materials after the first application.
- The setting of mandatory recycled content targets for products that can use recycled content without product detriment, can also help guarantee long term markets for recycled plastics making the business of recycling more attractive to investors and driving the collection of single use products such as packaging. This would make the recycling business sector more stable and ensure that collection of plastics would continue in all market conditions. In the UK, five major plastics recyclers have gone into administration in 2015-2016 due to low ‘virgin’ polymer prices related to low oil prices reducing demand for their products.
- The development of container deposit schemes that would place a value on agreed packaging and ensures that high collection rates and reduced wastage rates are achieved, improve the quality of recycled plastic input and most importantly remove these packages from the litter stream. In USA the ten States with deposit legislation provide 50% of recycled plastics materials and collectors can obtain high prices for the recovered materials.
- Developing strategies to increase the value of collecting plastics in order to incentivise plastics collection in countries where formal recycling systems are absent and are replaced by informal systems, like for example waste picking. Waste pickers who collect materials and sell them to recyclers, tend to concentrate their efforts on high value plastics that represent only a small percentage (20%) of the amount of waste the pickers are dealing with. The remaining 80%, remains uncollected, is illegally dumped into rivers or waterways and is more likely to leak into the oceans.
- Tighter control is needed over the specifications and destinations of exported waste plastics to countries that may not have formal waste management infrastructure, to ensure that any residues within the exported materials are not disposed in places that can leak into waterways and finally to oceans. China imports over 14 million tonnes of waste plastics from other countries including USA and Europe and in the past there have been concerns about the quality and purity of the imported materials that led to controls over the banning of unprocessed plastics (China Green Fence). Other countries in Asia have not applied the same controls over imports, effectively providing ‘low cost waste disposal’ for unscrupulous waste operators. This loophole needs to be comprehensively blocked at the source rather than asking less developed countries to cope with imported waste from developed countries.
- Greater mandatory protection of waterways from plastics infiltration from roads, drains, sewerage treatment plants and landfills. Current measures are not comprehensive enough to prevent bottles, caps and smaller objects such as plastics granules, cotton buds, drinking straws, coffee stirrers and similar sized items from getting into the drainage system. The drains on roads and the outlets to waterways need better ways of collecting macro-sized plastics at the very least. Industrial plastics processing businesses need to minimise the discharge of plastic pellets by controlling spillages and improving floor clean up techniques. Sewerage treatment plants encounter many items including plastics that require finer screening to ensure that they do not enter the aquatic system. Since the road systems, waterways and sewerage plants are closely linked to local and national government jurisdiction, the standards could be readily reviewed, monitored and enforced to new standards that ensure greater exclusion of plastics from the pathways leading to oceans.
• Extended Producer Responsibility: Making brand-owners who package and sell products, responsible for the environmentally-sound management of the packaging at the end of its life. Each product made would ideally have a defined pathway and be suited to easy recycling, contain high levels of recycled content with the minimum of residual landfill materials. Brand-owners must ensure that there is an acceptable end of life destination for their packaging in the local market. This is especially important in Asia where waste management is less developed and regulations are not as rigorous as elsewhere. Brand-owners need to ensure that all packages are non-toxic, recyclable and or compostable. This may mean new packaging materials and designs. This has been achieved in Europe and North America thanks to the implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programmes for packaging. Extension to other regions is urgently needed.
The Republic of Korea is a very good example in this context. In the Republic of Korea, since 2003, a policy of Extended Producer Responsibility has been introduced on packaging (paper, glass, iron, aluminium and plastic) and specific products (batteries, tyres, lubricating oil). As a result of this initiative, 6 million metric tons of waste has been recycled between 2003 and 2007, resulting in a 14% increase of the country’s recycling rate and in the creation of economic benefits equivalent to USD 1.6 billion.