Fighting back plastic pollution crisis amid pandemic
The skyrocketing use of disposable plastic masks and gloves. Lockdowns on movement and shuttered recycling facilities. Suspensions or delays on laws that would have restricted singleuse plastic bags in shops and markets. The plastic pollution crisis, already sharply escalating over the last decade, has been significantly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resulting crisis is not only environmental, but also starkly humanitarian. At the local level, informal sector waste pickers and others working in waste management are facing evaporated livelihoods and high risk of infection. Women and girls, traditionally marginalized by harmful societal norms and excluded from employment and protections in the formal sector, are disproportionately affected.
When we started the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) two years ago to translate commitments to reduce plastic pollution into concrete action, we knew this would be a daunting and complex task. But we could have never anticipated the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic.
Over the past few months, however, we and our diverse global community have come to see a clear way forward. While we work urgently to address the crises at hand, we also need to put the world back on the path towards sustainable, equitable and inclusive growth. Eradicating plastic pollution will be a key part of that long-term sustainable development agenda.
Here are three things to help us get there.
First, our unique model for tackling plastic pollution is working, and it can be scaled up quickly.
Two years ago, our colleagues at SYSTEMIQ and The Pew Charitable Trusts developed a groundbreaking model that allows governments to measure, evaluate and address their national plastic pollution challenges in a systematic way. This model was recently published as part of the "Breaking the Plastic Wave" study, which shows how we can reduce plastic leakage into the ocean by 80 percent by 2040.
GPAP became the first to put that model into action at the national level through our unique National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) model — a locally led, locally driven platform for creating country-specific approaches to tackling plastic pollution.
Indonesia was the first country to come on board. In April, in partnership with the government of Indonesia, we launched a multistakeholder action plan that proposes a clear path forward for reducing marine plastic leakage by 70 percent by 2025 and achieving a circular economy for plastics by 2040.
This plan is now being carried forward by five parallel task forces, each dedicated to advancing progress and building capacity on a different front. The NPAP will also soon release a financing roadmap for mobilizing the billions needed to scale up nationwide infrastructure for effectively collecting and processing waste.
While specific contexts and challenges will differ from country to country, we see great potential to replicate this approach in many countries across the world. Similar platforms and action plans are under development in Ghana and Vietnam. Ultimately, we hope to catalyze the formation of regional hubs for knowledge exchange and collaboration.
Second, there is an abundance of high-potential plastic action innovations out there. The moment for boost is now.
Innovative plastics solutions turn radical action plans into reality. In each NPAP country, we are supporting locally led task forces dedicated to advancing innovation.
In Indonesia, our partner SecondMuse, a social impact accelerator and cochair of the innovation task force, recently held a pitching event to showcase the work of young innovators that could significantly improve waste management and reduction. Circulate Capital, one of our global advisers, recently announced inaugural investments of US$6 million in two plastics recycling businesses in India and Indonesia, with a special focus on helping these companies weather the COVID-19 crisis.
From the early days of the pandemic, we and our partners have worked to draw attention to the unprecedented challenges facing informal sector waste pickers. When technology giant SAP approached us to offer resources to support those who had been hit hardest by the pandemic, we brought them together with waste picker unions and other local partners in Ghana and Indonesia to create a digital pilot solution to help waste pickers fast-track their path to formalization. The pilot is expected to launch this autumn.
Third, we need to mainstream gender and inclusion across all aspects of plastic pollution action.
Any environmental action must put the needs and perspectives of women, girls and traditionally marginalized communities at the forefront. But there has been a critical lack of knowledge in the plastic action space on this front, particularly in the area of gender mainstreaming.
With the upcoming release of a comprehensive guidance ebook on embedding a gender lens across all points of the plastics value chain, we hope to significantly close that gap. At the same time, recognizing that gender and cultural norms differ across national contexts, we've hired local gender experts from Indonesia and Ghana to build out countryspecific guidance for our partners.
It's also important to acknowledge that highly valuable work is already taking place. One of our partners, the NGO Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), has worked for decades to support the livelihoods of women laborers and informal sector workers. In countries such as Ghana, Brazil and Mexico, WIEGO uses research and advocacy to support local workers and unions in the fight for recognition and formalization.
A truly inclusive platform must also listen to and uplift the voices of youth leaders from around the world. From Indonesia, sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen have emerged as notable young leaders in a movement to ban single-use plastic bags. From Ghana, Joshua Amponsem is leading community initiatives on climate adaptation through promoting sustainable waste management.
From the Bahamas, Kristal Ambrose is using her environmental science and research background to educate students about combatting plastic pollution. With our platform, we hope to help embed the youth perspective to plastic action and environmental work, rather than keeping them siloed.
Building on our strong foundation, we are now working rapidly to scale our impact and propel plastic action to the top of the recovery agenda. Together, we can shape a more sustainable and inclusive world through the eradication of plastic pollution. Join us!
Director of Global Plastic Action Partnership and member of the Executive Committee of World Economic Forum. This is in a way the second installment of a blog post written at last year's Sustainable Development Impact Summit.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.