Accelerating Circularity for Plastics

The past several years have seen a dramatic surge in public and political attention, both domestically and internationally, to the challenge of plastic waste entering the marine environment. We have also more recently seen those concerns expand to include enhanced scrutiny of the potential impacts of plastic pollution beyond the oceans, including the evaluation of potential harms from exposure to plastics and microplastics in air, soil, and food chains.

Yet even as concerns about their impacts grow, the global demand for plastics is increasing, not decreasing. Plastics play an integrated role in global value chains in virtually all sectors of the modern economy, a role that is unlikely to fundamentally change in the foreseeable future. Among their other attributes, they can help to achieve sustainability objectives in areas such as climate change (through product light-weighting) and food security (by increasing food shelf life). Reducing plastic pollution and the impacts of the plastics value chain, therefore, will require a shift in the legal and policy environment to actively promote product innovations, improved waste management, and a more circular economy for plastics. We focus here on the evolving legal frameworks relevant to circularity for plastics. A robust circular economy will allow for society’s reliance on the functionality and utility of plastic products, while also helping to reduce the volume of plastic waste that is diverted into landfills or lost to the environment.

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Published in Natural Resources & Environment Volume 37, Number 1, Summer 2022. © 2022 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.