Concerns about the environmental and social harm caused by plastic waste and pollution have led to a surge in laws and policies designed to control the production and use of single-use plastic products. The legislation that is currently being developed by countries and cities is not, however, always comprehensive or effective, and there is a lack of clear guidance on what should be included – guidance that governments will increasingly need. This guide was developed to support countries in addressing the environmental impacts of marine plastic litter and pollution from single-use plastic products. The guide aims to aid legislators and policymakers around the globe, including those without expertise in the subject, in understanding possible regulatory approaches and the elements that should be included when they draft legislation.

Key Findings

  • Plastic products designed to be used only once before they are disposed of, termed “single-use plastic products”, are increasingly regulated by Governments concerned about the environmental, social, health, or other impacts of plastic waste and pollution.
  • This guide is a tool to help legislators and policymakers explore options for reducing the harmful impacts of single-use plastic products by regulating their production and consumption, promoting alternatives, and/or improving the management, recycling, and final disposal of single-use plastic waste.
  • The guide outlines the most used regulatory approaches and explains the main elements that legislators will need to consider when drafting legislation.
  • Each type of regulatory approach is illustrated by examples of actions taken by governments around the world, including sample legal provisions.

Executive Summary

Full executive summary available in the report

The guide is intended to be a practical tool for those working to develop laws and regulations to limit or manage single-use plastic products. It guides how to develop legislation on single-use plastic products, outlines the main regulatory alternatives, and suggests the key elements that each should include. It also guides the writing of clear and comprehensive laws and suggests key policy and drafting considerations. The guide gives examples of provisions from existing laws regulating single-use plastic products and more detailed information in the form of national case studies.

Under each of the identified regulatory approaches, key elements were identified and then defined as the minimum components that legislators should incorporate or consider when crafting legislation or regulations using that particular approach. To develop legislation of single-use plastic products you must:

  • Establish a baseline, consider the objectives and policy-making principles, select the right regulatory approach and engage in transparent and diverse consultations.
  • Use clear definitions, incorporate transparency and accountability mechanisms, and articulate precise institutional roles and responsibilities.

Types of principal regulatory approaches include:

  • Bans and restrictions directly prohibit the production, importation or exportation, distribution, sale, or use of one or more single-use plastic products.
  • Economic instruments impose taxes to deter production or use of single-use plastics or offer tax breaks, subsidies, or other fiscal incentives to encourage the production and use of alternatives to single-use plastic products.
  • Product standards, certification, and labeling requirements can be designed to target sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics or to mitigate the harm caused by single-use plastics
  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes use a combination of regulatory approaches to extend manufacturers’ responsibility for single-use plastic products throughout their life cycle, including to the end-of-life stage.
  • Waste management legislation can be amended so that it better fosters opportunities for single-use plastics to be recovered, recycled, or reused.

This guide also highlights the potential for governments to be creative in combining approaches or generating other solutions. Other regulatory approaches that have been legislated to effect a change in consumer and producer behavior include consumer education programs, funds or prizes; public procurement requirements; reuse incentives; and public-private partnerships.