The United Nations Environment Assembly concluded in 2017 that existing global and regional governance frameworks for combating plastic pollution took a fragmented approach that was inadequate in addressing the problem. This review of 60 global and 37 regional plastic waste initiatives supports that conclusion, and finds that most initiatives focus on the consequences rather than the source of the problem, target the last stage of the plastics life cycle and suffer from weak accountability and reporting. In addition, the geographic coverage of the initiatives is far from comprehensive.
The number of plastic waste initiatives has increased significantly over the last decade, together with our knowledge of plastic waste and its implications for human health and the environment. If this trend continues, the number of initiatives will continue to increase in response to the growing problem, but even where these initiatives are effective in meeting their limited goals, the overall approach is likely to remain fragmented. This review supports that a legally binding international framework may be the best way to address plastic pollution on a global scale.
The global initiatives, which operate in multiple countries, are often led by intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and focus on strengthening operational capacity, awareness-raising and education. Some global initiatives are managed by multiple stakeholders, potentially yielding better uptake and results, and some of the same large multinational corporations and stakeholders fund multiple initiatives in partnership with non-profit organizations. The initiatives also seem to be similar in their targets and geographic focus.
Many regional initiatives pursue activities related to the improvement of waste management operations, awarenessraising and education. Initiatives at both the global and regional levels take temporizing actions that address the consequences rather than the source of the problem. The geographic coverage of the initiatives is determined by each initiative with no apparent coordination. Europe and South-East Asia have more initiatives, and Latin America and Africa have fewer.