Transforming the Global Plastics Economy: The Role of Economic Policies in the Global Governance of Plastic Pollution
1. Introduction and Approach
2. Evolving Definitions of the “Problem”
2.1. An Overview of the Framing of the Plastics Crisis
2.2. Perspectives on the Drivers of Plastic Pollution
2.2.1. A Global Waste Management Problem
2.2.2. A Product Design Problem
2.2.3. A Structural Problem
2.3. Mapping Today’s Policy Landscape—Examples of Evolving Responses and Approaches by Governments, Industry and Civil Society
2.3.1. A Tradition of Voluntary Initiatives
2.3.2. The Move from Voluntary Initiatives to Proactive Government Engagement and Mandatory Action
2.3.3. A Growing Focus on Addressing Root Causes
2.4. An Emerging Focus on Development Issues
3. Evolution of the International Policy Landscape
4. Where Now? Strategic Debates and New Directions for Global Governance of Plastics and Plastic Pollution
4.1. International Environmental Cooperation
4.2. Complementary Approaches to Reducing the Proliferation of Unnecessary, Harmful and Problematic Plastics at Source
5. Conclusions, Future Research Needs and Gaps
- the global political economy of plastic production and the factors enabling its expansion, as well as the regulatory behaviour of key commercial actors. A better understanding of the political economy dynamics of the plastic industry and global supply chains—market structure and concentration, location of production, investment and trade flows and employment—will help identify effective solutions.
- industrial policies that can spur the structural transformation needed to stop the proliferation of unnecessary, harmful, toxic and problematic plastics; supports global commitments to phase-out fossil fuels; and support the transition to more sustainable alternatives and substitutes. Promoting change demands attention to technical, socio-economic and institutional aspects of structural transformation, and to multiple economic sectors and stakeholder groups. It will also require focused attention to the needs of developing countries, where the economic constraints and political challenges may be different from those in more advanced countries.
- the international economic regulatory environment and international policy frameworks relevant to the production of plastics and their substitutes, alongside hard and soft law instruments for international environmental cooperation.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
See the Statement of the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, held in Geneva, 1 and 2 September 2021, available online: https://ministerialconferenceonmarinelitter.com (accessed on 15 June 2021).
The call for international extended producer responsibility was discussed (but not adopted) in the context of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter’s 2011 Honolulu Strategy and has arisen in numerous dsicussions in the context of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) context, including in proposals for a global agreement on plastic pollution.
See the CLC Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, which entered into force in 1975.
See note 1.
See the draft resolution on “Internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution,” for UN Environment Assembly-5.2 issued in 2021 by the governments of Peru and Rwanda, co-sponsored by Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, European Union and its Member States, Colombia, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Norway, Philippines, Senegal, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uganda. Available online: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/37395/UNEA5.2%20Global_Agreement_Explanatory%20note%20and%20Resolution%2027%20October.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (accessed on 15 June 2021). In June 2021, Japan also issued a draft resolution for UNEA-5.2 for an “International legally binding instrument on marine plastic pollution,” which focuses more narrowly on marine plastic pollution, available online: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/37625/Draft%20Resolution%20on%20an%20international%20legally%20binding%20instrument%20on%20marine%20plastic%20pollution_Japan.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (accessed on 5 June 2021). For a comparison of the two proposed Plaresolutions, see CIEL and EIA (2021).
In this view, a move away from dependence on plastics and towards the creation and use of different kinds of products or processes is an example of the process of “creative destruction” identified by Schumpeter as characteristic of transformation.
Notably, exports of domestically prohibited goods, in particular hazardous waste, have long been a subject of discussion at the WTO and its predecessor, the GATT, as developing countries sought to limit “dumping” of toxic wastes.
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|Focus||Voluntary||Regulated and Enforced|
|Disposal and end-of-life focused|
|Consumer and retailer focused|
|Phase 1: Evolving Policy Frameworks on Marine Litter and How to Better Manage Waste||Phase 2: Intensified and Wider Focus on Marine Plastic Pollution||Phase 3: Widening Focus on Plastic Pollution Across Life-Cycle, Concerns about Plastic Production and Action on Plastic Waste Trade|
1969 Creation of Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Environment
1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter
1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)
1982 UN Law of the Sea includes legal requirements to “prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source”
1995 UN Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Enviroment from Land-based Activities (GPA)
2004 UN General Assembly resolution 52/24 creates open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, recommending a focus on marine debris
2012 UN Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML)
2014 UN Environment Assemby Resolution on marine plastic debris and microplastics
2015 Targets related to marine pollution feature in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Target 14.1
2015 Implementation plan for achieving 2020 goals for sound chemical management approved at the fourth session of the International Conference on Chemical Management (ICCM4) including legal frameworks that address the life cycle of chemicals and waste
2016 UNEA resolution on marine plastics and microplastics
2016 UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea focuses on marine debris, plastics and microplastics
2017 Ocean Conference declaration includes commitment to “develop sustainable consumption and production patterns”
2018 G7 Oceans Plastic Charter commits action to lifecycle management approach to plastics
2019 Basel Convention plastic waste amendments and creation of Plastic Waste Partnership
2021 WTO Ministerial Statement on Plastic Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade
2021 Statement of the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution
[2022 Potential UNEA decision to launch negotiations for a Global Agreement on Plastic Pollution]
|Promoting Sustainable Transformation Across the Life-Cycle of the Plastics||Ensuring a Just Transition to Support the Process of Transformation|
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Barrowclough, D.; Birkbeck, C.D. Transforming the Global Plastics Economy: The Role of Economic Policies in the Global Governance of Plastic Pollution. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 26. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11010026
Barrowclough D, Birkbeck CD. Transforming the Global Plastics Economy: The Role of Economic Policies in the Global Governance of Plastic Pollution. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(1):26. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11010026Chicago/Turabian Style
Barrowclough, Diana, and Carolyn Deere Birkbeck. 2022. "Transforming the Global Plastics Economy: The Role of Economic Policies in the Global Governance of Plastic Pollution" Social Sciences 11, no. 1: 26. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11010026