A global policy framework that incentivises sustainable plastics design is needed and essential in building a circular economy.
This was one of the key conclusions of the introductory session of a Global Forum on Environment in Copenhagen, staged by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), 29-31 May.
According to a note from the organisers, the forum sought to promote "a shift in sustainable chemistry thinking at the product design stage” by identifying good practice and a policy reducing the environmental and health impact of plastics.
With plastic pollution peaking, Shardul Agrawala, head of the environment and economy integration division at the OECD environment directorate, stressed the importance of the forum as an attempt to integrate global efforts to reduce plastics waste.
Indeed, the deputy director general of chemicals and waste management at the South African government's department of environmental affairs, Mark Gordon, proposed the creation of a global protocol on sustainable plastics to ensure controls have worldwide scope. He hoped the plastics sector could adapt to such rules: “We are at the threshold of a new era of the plastics economy, and there is an increasing demand for sustainable products,” he said.
As for how such rules should be framed, the permanent secretary from the Danish ministry of environment and food, Henrik Studsgaard, stressed: “We do not want to ban it [plastics] altogether, as we regard plastics as a fantastic modern material, but we need to recycle, reuse and redesign it. We need to take the entire life cycle of plastics into consideration.”
As an EU member state, Denmark will have to follow the European Union (EU) lead on such issues, notably legislation that could follow the European Commission proposing bans on single-use plastic products such as cotton buds and plastic straws and putting the burden of cleaning up waste on manufacturers to reduce marine litter.
However, Daniel Calleja Crespo, the Commission's environment director general said that plastics should not be demonised or banned altogether, as “plastics play a key role in building a circular economy”.
He emphasised the importance of the design of the product: “Everything starts with the design of the product. If we optimise the design it leads to more dismantlable and recyclable plastics” and added that everyone has a role to play in the change from a linear towards a circular economy.