Tackling Plastic Waste: From Pollution to Circular Solutions

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The Rise of Plastic Production and its Environmental Impact

The increasing use and disposal of plastic have become a serious global environmental problem. Even with technological advances only a small percentage of plastic waste is recycled or incinerated as fuel, with the majority ending up in landfills, public places, oceans, rivers, and beaches. It is also found littered throughout urban areas, especially in developing countries that do not have adequate or enforced waste management systems. Microplastics in the marine environment and in soils is one of the greatest health concerns today.  Plastic waste is light and is easily transported long distances by wind and water currents impacting ecosystems: plastic pollution knows no boundaries and has devastating consequences.

Plastic Waste Disposal: A Growing Problem

Of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste produced since the 1950s, only 9% has been recycled, and about 12% has been incinerated. Single-use items such as disposable coffee cups and plastic bags are an increasing part of plastic waste. When plastic waste ends up in the ocean, it can wash up on distant beaches, harm marine life, and potentially end up in the food chain through microplastic ingestion by fish, marine mammals and crustaceans.

Some countries have addressed this issue by banning plastic bags and setting recycling targets. Companies have also pledged to increase the use of recycled plastic and to manufacture packaging from recycled or renewable sources. However, despite these efforts, the environmental impact of plastic pollution is a growing threat to the planet, and  much is yet to be understood about the long-term effects on ecosystems and human health.

The High Costs of Plastic Pollution: Financial and Environmental Impact

The financial and environmental costs of plastic pollution are significant. A study estimates that marine litter alone costs $13 billion annually, primarily due to its impact on fisheries, tourism, and biodiversity. Additionally, the overall cost of plastic pollution was estimated at $139 billion per year, with half of that arising from the climate effects of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the production and transportation of plastic. Another third was attributed to the impact of air, water, and land pollution on health, crops, and the environment and waste disposal costs.

In comparison to other environmental problems, addressing plastic pollution is relatively low cost, largely due to its light weight. However, the study also suggests that replacing plastic with alternative materials could lead to an increase in environmental costs of at least fourfold. Additionally, plastics play essential roles in specific industries, such as healthcare and food preservation. Researchers and campaigners are working to understand the impacts of plastic pollution and take appropriate action to address it.

What are plastic credits and how do they work?

Plastic credits are certificates that represent one metric ton of plastic waste that has been recycled or collected from the environment above baseline rates. Moreover, waste management infrastructure cannot capture and recycle all the plastic waste generated, therefore, plastic credits allow companies to validate and finance plastic collection and recycling operations.

There are two types of credits: Collection credits and Recycling credits. Companies buy these credits to offset their plastic waste generation and use them as part of their plastic footprint reduction strategy. The income generated from buying these credits is used to improve plastic waste collection and/or recycling activities that have been verified by an independent auditor to ensure they conform to the criteria established by Verra to obtain plastic credits.

Verra is the authorized crediting body that establishes strict criteria for receiving plastic credits, and the registration and audit process can take up to a year. Traders sell plastic credits at fluctuating prices depending on their value. Companies can address their plastic footprint by buying plastic credits from certified activities that enable the scale-up of collection and recycling infrastructure while supporting community development.

The Plastic Program under Verra is a certification program that assesses projects related to plastic waste reduction. Projects must meet the Plastic Standard, undergo independent auditing, be evaluated using specific methodologies, and register with the Verra Registry. The program ensures transparency and high standards through rigorous assessments and independent verification. Four main components that every plastic project goes under:

  1. The Plastic Standard is a set of rules and requirements that projects must adhere to in order to be certified by the Plastic Program. It covers various activities related to plastic waste reduction, such as waste collection, infrastructure development, recycling, and developing recycling technologies.
  2. Independent auditing is a crucial component of the Plastic Program. All projects undergo desk and field audits by qualified third-party auditors and Verra staff to ensure compliance with standards and methodologies.
  3. Projects are evaluated using specific and technically sound methodologies for plastic waste collection or recycling, tailored to the project type.
  4. The Verra Registry is a centralized database for all registered projects and tracks Plastic Credits’ generation, retirement, and cancellation. Projects must demonstrate compliance with all standards and methodologies to join the plastic program.

Investing in Plastic Recycling and Credit Programs: A Solution to Plastic Pollution

In conclusion, plastic pollution is a global problem that poses high financial and environmental costs. Plastic waste management has been a challenge for decades, and despite the efforts of governments and industries to address the issue, plastic pollution continues to be a significant concern. There is still much to be understood about plastic pollution’s long-term effects on ecosystems and human health. However, it is clear that plastic waste management needs to be a priority and that a comprehensive approach is needed, including reducing the overall amount of plastic used, promoting sustainable alternatives, and enforcing laws and regulations.

At Africa Carbon & Commodities, we recognize the importance of addressing plastic pollution and are committed to investing in regional collection and recycling infrastructure for plastic waste in Africa. Plastic credits can play a crucial role in promoting a circular economy by allowing companies to offset their plastic footprint. By purchasing plastic credits, companies can achieve a net-zero plastic footprint and in turn fund important and significant plastic waste reduction activities on the African continent.

Our Deekali Plastic Recovery West Africa program aims to recover and recycle plastic waste throughout Senegal. To date, the program has collected 11,464 tons of plastic waste and recycled 9,771 tons by working closely with local partners specializing in collecting and recycling plastic.

Meeting table at the ACC office made from plastic lumber