From theory to practice: How countries can start developing policies to phase out plastic pollution

In February 2022, we took a momentous step forward. Leaders from across the world agreed a strong mandate to negotiate a global treaty to end plastic pollution. Considerable negotiations to secure the treaty lie ahead, but the mandate makes clear that we cannot afford to wait.

That’s why we’re scaling up our efforts and looking to partner with 10 new countries to develop plastic policy. On Friday 11 March, we brought together experts and policy makers from around the world to discuss how these countries can work together to deliver effective policy today and shape the robust global treaty we need tomorrow.

At the event Ben Jack, Programme Director at Common Seas, and Philippa Nuttall, Environment and Sustainability Editor, New Statesman (Chair) were joined by:

The event was part of the first international United Nations International Ocean Decade Conference. Watch the video here.

“It’s clearly fantastic news” says Philippa Nuttall, from the New Stateman. “But the UN process is quite slow. It will take two years for countries to come back with a draft text [for the global treaty]”.

Meanwhile, the problem of plastic pollution gets worse: there’s set to be four times the volume of plastic in our oceans by 2040 if we don’t act now. “Plastic isn’t just a disaster for our ocean, it’s a crisis for economies, livelihoods and health” says Ben Jack, “a world with four times more plastic in our oceans is also incompatible with keeping global warming well below 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

But we also know that there is an appetite for change: “a common goal we find amongst countries is to try to do something, and to try to do something now” says Dr Lucy Woodall, Associate Professor and Principal Scientist at Oxford University and the Nekton Foundation. But insights drawn by Common Seas’, from discussions with over 20 countries, show three common blockers that help explain why one in three of the most polluting countries lack any policy targeting plastic pollution:

1) Lack of baseline data

2) A lack of knowledge about the available solutions

3) A lack of access to expertise and support

This is why, we’ve developed Plastic Drawdown: a rapid, cost-effective and user-friendly approach for countries wanting to tackle their plastic pollution problem. It’s been used in Indonesia, Greece, the Maldives and the UK and now we are looking for 10 new countries “to support them to create bold, evidence-based steps to phase out plastic pollution” says Ben Jack.

It works by taking a country through five simple steps:

“We often talk about a circular economy approach to plastic pollution”, says Philippa Nuttall, “but it can seem very theoretical. It’s great to see such a practical tool like Plastic Drawdown being put in place”.

After using Plastic Drawdown, the President of the Maldives announced an ambitious Phase-out Strategy for single-use plastics by 2023 at the United Nations (pictured top). Dr Farah Faizal, High Commissioner of Maldives to the UK, says “Plastic Drawdown has allowed Maldives to tailor our policies to manage plastic waste, especially via the mapping and modelling. The process can empower communities and stakeholders that need to be collaborating with the government. Without developing this type of buy-in, it’s going to be very difficult for any country to be successful”. Read our Maldives case study here.

Common Seas and The Gambia are at the beginning of the Plastic Drawdown process. “Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, with disposable plastic products becoming widely available” says Lamin Komma, Program Manager and Head of the Coastal and Marine Environment Program of the National Environment Agency, The Gambia. “Plastic pollution is most visible in developing countries, and The Gambia is no exception. We’re excited to get support on the technical challenges and in raising awareness about the scale of the problem” he says.

In Kenya, Griffins Ochieng, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, thinks Plastic Drawdown can help his country go further than its existing bag ban to create a more holistic policy response to plastic, and prepare the country for a future UN treaty. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done ahead of any treaty. A tool like Plastic Drawdown will help mobilise stakeholders by providing an understanding of the overall situation. We can learn to build our baseline assessments ahead of time, so we can develop a meaningful National Action Plan when the UN treaty is agreed”.

So if you’re working to develop policies that will end plastic pollution, but your country needs help to establish baseline data, understand the solutions available, set and monitor national strategy, email [email protected] to find out more.

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