In a perfect world, we would reduce plastic pollution by simply identifying the most effective solutions and rolling them out wherever they are needed around the world. Why, in reality, is it more complicated?
This is the third post in our deep-dive series into the key themes that surfaced during last year’s event, Breaking the Plastic Wave Across the Commonwealth, held in partnership with Defra, the Government of Vanuatu, the Pew Trusts and Duke University.
The event, and these posts, built off consultations with 24 Low- and Middle-Income Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA) members about the challenges and opportunities they face in tackling the plastic pollution crisis. We heard many different needs expressed through these consultations, and the following themes emerged as a good place to focus our efforts, support and collaboration:
To explore why plastic pollution policies must be adaptable to local economic, market and industrial conditions, let’s look at an example: the deposit-return scheme (DRS).
These schemes work by adding a small extra charge to the price of, for example, a plastic drinks bottle. If the consumer hands in the bottle for recycling, they can claim back the extra charge. There are about 45 active DRS in the world. In Europe and the United States, these schemes can achieve between 57% and 98% recovery of waste plastic.
The variation in recovery rates can be explained by different aspects of a schemes’ design, particularly linked to the deposit value and the return infrastructure. Many of the Governments we spoke to wanted technical support to understand the potential for DRS to increase recycling and reduce plastic litter in their country, and to understand the financial models, technology and infrastructure that will enable it to be effective.
This was particularly true in cases where data on the volumes of different plastic materials on the market was lacking, waste collection infrastructure was less developed, there were relatively low volumes of material available, and logistical challenges or geographical isolation impeded the economic feasibility of accessing recycling markets.
Designing DRS systems that meet the needs of Low- and Middle-Income countries is made more challenging because existing case studies are dominated by European and North American examples. Fortunately, there are a growing number of examples of DRS systems being implemented that we can learn from – for example in Kiribati and Fiji.
We’ve drawn out some of the key principles for a successful DRS:
At Common Seas, we help decision-makers to understand the plastic waste problem, prioritise the most effective interventions and adapting them to meet their country’s needs.
For example, our work in the Maldives identified plastic bottles as a key source of waste and pollution and supported the Government to announce an ambitious phase-out strategy. We are now supporting the implementation by exploring the feasibility and system design of instruments like DRS, whilst also testing and demonstrating refill and reuse systems that will help to reduce single-use water bottle waste across the country.