Single-Use Plastic Products (SUPP) and their alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) defines single use plastic products as “an umbrella term for different types of products that are typically used once before being thrown away or recycled” (UNEP 2018), which includes food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, cutlery and shopping bags. It has been estimated that about 100-150 million tonnes of plastics are produced for single use products and about 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the oceans every year (Plastics Oceans 2019)

There is a need to consider alternative solutions to single-use plastic products. Resolution 9 of the fourth edition of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4) in March 2019, on “Addressing Single-use plastic products pollution” (UNEP/EA.4/R.9), “encourages member states to take actions, as appropriate, to promote the identification and development of environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastic products, taking into account the full life cycle implications of those alternatives”.

UN Environment Programme was requested by UNEP/ EA.4/R.9 to make available existing information on the full life cycle environmental impacts of plastic products compared to products of alternative materials. In answer to this, the Life Cycle Initiative is working on a series of meta-analyses of LCA studies on single-use plastic products and their alternatives. Each meta-analysis highlights the key advantages and disadvantages of alternatives to the single-use plastic products, and summarises key messages for policy-makers. Several reports have already been published including on bags, bottles, take-away food packaging, beverage cups,  cutlery. Others such as plates, face masks, and nappies are in preparation.

A high-level summary report for policy makers integrating the findings in studies was published in February as an information document to the Fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA5).

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