Published on Sustainable Cities

Five ways cities can curb plastic waste

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What a Waste 2.0 postcard on plastic waste


As the world observes World Environment Day this week, we should be mindful that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050 if nothing is done , according to the Ellen & MacArthur Foundation.
The negative impacts that plastic is having on the environment and human health is profoundly evident :

  • Respiratory issues are increasing because of air pollution from burning plastic.
  • Animal lifespans are shortened because of consuming plastic.
  • Littered plastic is clogging drains and causing floods.
  • And unmanaged plastic is contaminating our precious oceans and waterways…

Something can and must be done. In fact, there are many ways to curb plastic waste – by producing less, consuming less, and better managing existing waste to prevent contamination or leakage.
Fortunately, taking action on plastic waste is something that all are empowered to do – from citizens and governments to businesses and manufacturers. 
While the solutions may vary, policy solutions, increased awareness, and improved design and disposal processes, among others, are critical to changing behavior and better managing plastic waste.
Here are five interesting interventions that address plastic waste from various aspects of society: 

[Also read: Five things you can do to end plastic pollution]
1. Better holistic solid waste management systems. The Maldives is known for its coral reefs, blue lagoons, and beaches. Facing increasing amounts of waste and litter in its ecosystems, the Maldives has looked to improve its waste management system overall. The country is investing in sustainable disposal infrastructure, improving waste collection systems, and splitting the islands into zones to make the most efficient use of shared resources. By improving its core waste management system, Maldives will control plastic waste at the source.
2. Recycling in manufacturing. Plastic waste is being put to productive use in both local and global capacities. Simple solutions that local communities are pursuing include using recycled plastic as filler for cement blocks, ropes, and household goods such as baskets and mats. At a larger scale, manufacturers are using recycled plastic and textiles to make clothing and furniture. By using waste materials for products with monetary value such as clothing, shoes, or road construction, society is incentivized to collect plastic and capture its full value.

3. Informal sector partnerships. Informal waste collectors are the powerhouse of recycling efforts in many countries, and bolstering their capacity can increase plastic recycling.  In Mexico, the company PetStar has developed a vertically integrated recycling chain with Coca Cola, and partnered with informal workers for the supply of used plastic bottles. Not only do informal workers earn higher and more consistent wages with a steady demand for the materials, but the plastic recycling industry achieves resilience even during poor global markets by partnering with a beverage company. Countries all over the world can leverage the informal sector to both reduce plastic waste and socially empower vulnerable populations.
4. Community campaigns. Management of plastic waste often starts at the household and individual levels , and effective strategies to educate and motivate citizens can dramatically change behavior. In Jamaica, Environmental Wardens across the country are sensitizing their neighbors about community cleanliness and disposing of waste in a safe, environmentally friendly manner. They are community members employed through a World Bank-supported project to spread awareness about waste management and keeping communities clean and healthy. The communities and schools that are part of the project are collecting plastic bottles at volume to sell to a recycler and removing them from littering or clogging their communities.
5. Policy and planning. Once adequate collection and disposal systems are in place – which are necessary for cities to ensure all waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner – cities can pursue focused interventions, such as bans on certain types of plastic. For example, California’s ban on plastic led to a 72% decrease in plastic litter on local beaches from 2010 to 2017. However, having a plastic ban by itself will not solve the issue of plastic mismanagement. Many cities attempting to implement bans on materials without proper incentive and management structures struggle to achieve meaningful results due to noncompliance, “black markets,” and continued littering when adequate disposal systems are not available. Plastic policies need to be supported by an effective waste management system and the government’s ability to enforce such policies.
The global plastic waste problem is multifaceted, but so are its solutions. How has your city made progress? 
Details on global solid waste management trends and data will be discussed in a forthcoming World Bank report “What a Waste 2.0.” Stay tuned!



Silpa Kaza

Urban Development Specialist, World Bank

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