May 2019: The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) has published a report that describes the SGP’s experiences and lessons learned on plastics management through the presentation of case studies that focus on implementing a circular economy at the local level in ten countries.

The report titled, ‘Plastics and Circular Economy: Community Solutions,’ discusses lessons learned related to: community-based innovations and technologies; multi-stakeholder partnerships; market barriers and policy responses; awareness raising and capacity development; social inclusion and exclusion; and economic feasibility and sustainability. The report will be presented during the GEF Council Consultation with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on 10 June 2019, prior to the 56th GEF Council meeting from 11-14 June.

Plastic waste is a growing threat to the environment, economy and human well-being. Only around 10% of the plastic waste generated between 1950 and 2015 has been recycled, due to the lack of recycling systems and the non-profitability of plastic recycling. The report warns that, if current consumption patterns and waste management practices do not improve, around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter will be in landfills and the natural environment by 2050. The report argues that circular economy solutions for plastics should focus on eliminating single-use plastics and managing long-lived plastics, including those used in vehicles and construction.

Plastics are also a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change, according to the report. For example, the extraction and processing of fossil fuel as plastics feedstocks emit carbon dioxide (CO2), and the combustion of waste plastics emitted 390 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012. In addition, plastic waste also affects the world’s freshwater systems and ocean and marine resources, with plastic debris injuring and killing fish, seabirds and marine mammals.

If current consumption patterns and waste management practices do not improve, around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter will be in landfills and the natural environment by 2050.

The report notes that the circular economy approach can also help to achieve the SDGs, particularly:

  • SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), which includes targets on: achieving sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources (SDG target 12.2); sound management of chemicals and wastes (SDG target 12.4); and improving waste prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (SDG target 12.5);
  • SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), which includes target 8.4 on improving global resource efficiency in consumption and production and decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation; and
  • SDG 14 (life below water), whose target 14.1 focuses on preventing marine pollution from land-based activities, including marine debris, of which plastics make up the majority.

Four of the projects described in the report focus on material engineering and product design to promote “3Rs” (“reduce, reuse and recycle”): banana-tree bark as an alternative to plastic for seedling transport bags in Burundi; improved plastic waste management in support of marginalized women’s livelihoods in India; recycling plastic waste to conserve Negril’s coral reef in Jamaica; and a youth-led innovation to transform plastic waste into new construction material in Sierra Leone.

Three projects focus on consumer use and behavior shift as a result of campaigns, awareness raising and capacity development: plastic recycling led by a women’s group that contributes to a national plastic ban in the Gambia; plastic waste leading to employment for people with disabilities in Ghana; and alternatives to single-use plastic bags in Maldives.

Three projects focus on waste collection and management: community-based plastic waste management for wetland conservation in Afghanistan; employing 3Rs through the use of innovative barcoded shopping bags in Armenia; and piloting sustainable community-based waste management in South Eleuthera in the Bahamas.

Launched in 1992, GEF-SGP, implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), has supported more than 22,000 community-based projects. As of April 2019, the SGP’s chemical and waste management portfolio had 714 projects with GEF grants of more than USD 20.5 million. [Publication:Plastics and Circular Economy: Community Solutions] [Publication Landing Page]