Regulatory landscape for single-use plastics shows widespread momentum with mixed results

A groundbreaking report from the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute offers new insight on the global movement to curb single-use plastics. Through a first of its kind accounting, the report provides an overview of policy instruments and progress from countries regulating the manufacture, sale, use and disposal of single-use plastics. The assessment reveals widespread momentum for policy action, with often disparate environmental impacts.

Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics was developed with support from the French government after a year in which single-use plastic pollution rose to the top of the global environmental agenda. Authors based their findings on a review of national legally-binding instruments that include bans and restrictions, taxes and levies, and waste management measures to enhance disposal, encourage reuse and recycling, and promote alternatives to plastic products.

Among the key findings, the report found surging momentum for plastic bag bans, while other harmful single-use products, such as microbeads remain largely overlooked.  66 percent of countries worldwide have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags, while only eight out of 192 countries assessed (4 percent) have established bans of microbeads through national laws or regulations. 

“Having one planet means that we must do all it takes to safeguard future generations. Countries must now do more to develop and implement legislation against harmful single-use plastics and microplastics” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment. “The massive momentum we have built this year in our global fight against single-use plastic, must now be complimented by policies and actions that lead us in the right direction.”

In 2015, plastic packaging waste accounted for 47 percent of the plastic waste generated globally, with half of that appearing to come from Asia. While China remains the largest worldwide generator of plastic packaging waste, the USA is the largest generator of plastic packaging waste on a per-capita basis, followed by Japan and the European Union. Plastic bags, disposable single use plastic items, and microbeads are three important sources of plastic pollution with plastics being described as the world’s number one consumer item. In business-to-consumer applications, plastic packaging is mostly single-use, and a majority of it is discarded the same year it is produced. 



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