The scale and scope of the plastic pollution challenge has worsened as a result of COVID-19.
Digital trade creates opportunities that help tackle plastic waste pollution.
The role of trade policy in tackling plastic waste pollution took center stage at an event organized by the UK with the Global Plastic Action Partnership – a multi-stakeholder collaboration organized by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The session, held on 18 November as part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade and Environment Week, came one day after a group of WTO members announced an informal dialogue on trade and plastic pollution – an effort led by China and Fiji.
Julian Braithwaite, Ambassador of the UK to the WTO, highlighted his country’s participation in another informal initiative launched during the Week – the “structured discussions” on environmental sustainability, supported by a group of 49 WTO members. “It is only through collective leadership that the international community can tackle our most pressing environmental concerns,” he said.
“Around the world, we know that people want to see plastic pollution solved,” said Zac Goldsmith, the UK’s Minister of State (Minister for Pacific and the Environment), in a pre-recorded message. He announced that the UK plans to be part of ongoing efforts among UN Member States to craft a new global agreement on marine plastic litter and microplastic litter. Goldsmith said clinching this agreement could help create “unstoppable momentum” to tackle plastic waste. He noted that the Paris Agreement and the Montreal Protocol have achieved such successes in raising the profile of climate change and ozone-depleting substances.
Kristin Hughes, Director, Global Plastic Action Partnership, WEF, described a series of statistics that highlight the scale and scope of the plastic pollution challenge, and noted that the situation has worsened as a result of COVID-19. She said improper disposal of single-use plastics, including personal protective equipment, has increased due to the shutdown of recycling facilities in many places due to the pandemic. Among the trade policy actions to support a circular plastics economy, Hughes highlighted improved traceability and transparency of plastic waste in supply chains, along with steps to foster a more attractive investment landscape for waste management and recycling plants.
Panelists then examined Ghana’s experience with tackling plastic pollution as one of the pilot initiatives of the Global Plastic Action Partnership as it looks to “scale up” and share the successes seen to date in its three national partners – Ghana, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. The Partnership also includes public and private sector collaborators. The UK and Canada are its founding members.
Oliver Boachie, Special Adviser to Minister, Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Ghana, noted that the collaboration began after the country’s draft National Plastics Management Policy was issued in 2018, which was later updated and approved by Ghana’s cabinet in early 2020.
Boachie referred to amendments to the country’s customs laws to collect duties on imported plastic, aimed at disincentivizing the imports and collecting revenues to manage plastic waste, among other examples. Looking ahead, he described Ghana’s hopes for developing a circular economy framework for dealing with plastics, along with improving the logistics, technology, and infrastructure for managing waste, as well as developing better engagement with the informal sector.
Dorcas Ansah, Ghana country representative, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), spoke about WIEGO’s efforts to support waste pickers who are often neglected in national policy platforms, given that they often operate in the informal sector. Ansah noted WIEGO’s work with private companies, such as digital services company SAP, which has helped in automating the plastic value chain and boosting transparency.
Presenting a private sector perspective, Maggie Buggie, Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer, SAP Services, identified digital trade as part of the solution, and called for a system-wide approach to the circular economy to improve efficiency. She said a system that would digitally connect waste pickers, aggregators, and others involved in waste management would be key to have a better sense of the volume of plastic waste and who is doing what. Buggie noted that with better data, the private sector could make a more effective business case for plastic waste management and achieve economies of scale, which are vital for creating trade opportunities that help tackle plastic waste pollution. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on WEF Report on Plastics, the Circular Economy, and Global Trade]