International sustainability criteria for plastic products in a global agreement on plastic pollution
International sustainability criteria may act as the nervous system of a global agreement: establishing what sustainability entails for plastic products during their life cycle; and directing and activating preventive and mitigating measures if plastic products fail to meet the criteria. The fulfilment of the sustainability criteria may be achieved by domestic implementation of international commitments through national policy instruments and control measures. The development of national plastic action plans and technical international and national sustainability standards may serve as tools to this end. Commonly agreed international measures and standards will contribute to harmonize action on the global level to meet the criteria.
Considering the complexity of plastic products, with different polymer types, additives, modes of production, functions, uses and management practices, the report argues that it is not possible to define one single overarching criterion for their sustainability. Instead, a set of sustainability criteria may collectively contribute towards the improved sustainability of plastic products.
Achieving a safe and sustainable plastics economy requires a systemic shift towards sustainable consumption and production and a circular economy, where virgin plastic consumption is reduced, and plastic products are safely reused for as long as possible, reducing the need for virgin materials and eliminating leakages and pollution throughout the plastic product lifecycle.
While this report and the proposed sustainability criteria address plastic products, including but not limited to plastic packaging, the criteria consider all stages of the plastics value chain, from resource extraction to primary pellet production, product design and manufacture, consumption, waste management and treatment at the end-of-life. This life cycle approach is necessary to ensure measures to limit plastic pollution do not cause negative trade-offs and problem-shifting along the value chain.
Idun Rognerud, Eirik Hovland Steindal, Nandini Kumar and Valentina Elena Tartiu.