Impacts of Plastic Waste Management Strategies

Plastic waste and pollution pose serious social and environmental risks. When we design solutions to address the plastic problem, we cannot only have a singular goal like ‘reduce pollution’ – we need to think about plastics as a system, and what a sustainable plastics system would look like. If we only focus on one goal, we might miss how our solution causes other problems.” – Levi Helm

Plastic waste management strategies designed to manage or modify the current plastic system are not without their own impacts. In this newly published review, led by PhD student Levi Helm, we evaluate the state of the literature regarding these impacts, based on categories informed by the Sustainable Development Goals. Our review demonstrates that there are many strategies to improve plastic waste management, but impacts of each strategy should be carefully evaluated in the specific context of implementation – that is, the social, economic, and environmental risk profile of the location for the proposed management strategy. We found that there are significant gaps in the literature. Therefore, further studies designed to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of plastic waste management strategies and their impacts are needed to better inform plastic pollution mitigation policy. Accounting for the externalized, or indirect, impacts of PWMS is imperative for designing just, equitable, and sustainable policy for future plastics use in society.

Main Points

  1. Plastics pose a serious social and environmental threat, requiring significant action.
  2. Strategies to manage plastic also have impacts to sustainability
  3. In our paper, we review the literature the impacts of plastic waste management outside the scope of waste and pollution.
  4. We find that there many of these “external” impacts associated with plastic waste management, some are positive, some are negative, some are context dependent.
  5. The research considers certain impacts, usually those that are easier to measure, more than others. Whether the impact is positive or negative might depend on how the intervention is enacted.
  6. To develop plastics interventions that are socially and environmentally sustainable, we need to broadly consider the trade-offs involved: who or what benefits, and who or what is harmed within the specific context of implementation.

Check out the paper here (pdf)

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