December 11, 2018

UNEP, WRI Report Finds Regulations Focus on Plastic Bags, Overlook Microbeads

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

6 December 2018: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) released a global review of national laws and regulations on single-use plastics. The report calls for more comprehensive regulatory approaches to integrate the life cycle of plastic products, including their production, distribution, use and disposal.

The report titled, ‘Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics: A Global Review of National
Laws and Regulations,’ provides a global overview on national legally-binding instruments that regulate the manufacture, sale, use and disposal of single-use plastics. The report aims to serve as a reference for countries and other stakeholders interested in understanding the current approaches used to address plastic pollution.

The report finds “surging momentum” for addressing plastic bags while other harmful single-use products, such as microbeads, remain “largely overlooked.” Globally, 127 out of 192 countries (66 percent) have adopted some type of legislation to regulate plastic bags, while only eight out of 192 countries (four percent) have national laws or regulations that establish bans on microbeads. Countries that have established microbead bans are Canada, France, Italy, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the US. Among these countries, New Zealand’s regulations go beyond a ban on microbeads in personal products by also regulating abrasive household, car and industrial cleaning products. In addition, Belgium, Brazil, India and Ireland have proposed new regulations or laws banning microbeads at the national level, and the EU has started a process to restrict the addition of microplastics to consumer and professional use products. Voluntary approaches to tackle microbeads are also emerging, with governments, companies and civil society organizations promoting voluntary phase-outs and ecolabeling, among other approaches, to reduce the number of products containing microbeads.

Only eight out of 192 countries have national laws or regulations that establish bans on microbeads.

The most common intervention to reduce plastic bags is a ban on free retail distribution, which 83 countries have adopted. The next most common intervention is manufacturing and import bans, which 61 countries have enacted. In addition, 51 countries have adopted legislation to implement recycling targets for plastic bags.

Countries use a variety of approaches to regulate single-use plastic bags, including bans, voluntary measures and market or trade-based mechanisms. For example, 30 countries charge consumer fees for plastic bags at the national level; 27 countries have enacted taxes on the manufacture and production of plastic bags; and 27 countries have enacted legislation banning specific products like cups, plates, packaging or straws. The most common legal measures for single-use plastics are solid waste management laws and recycling requirements, which include single-use plastics under household or commercial waste or set targets for plastic recycling.

UNEP Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya, said the “massive momentum” built this year in the global fight against single-use plastic “must now be complimented by policies and actions that lead us in the right direction.” She called on countries to do more to develop and implement legislation against harmful single-use plastics and microplastics.

The report concludes that enhanced awareness and concern over marine plastic litter and microplastics will contribute to increased support for controlling the manufacture, use and disposal of plastic products, which will in turn support reduction of marine litter, protection of the world’s water resources and achievement of SDG 14 (life below water). The report is expected to inform discussions at the fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), which will take place from 11-15 March 2019. [Publication: Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics] [Publication Landing Page] [UNEP Press Release]