Scaling Up Plastic Waste Recovery and Recycling

Frequently Asked Questions

This page provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Plastic Program and the 3R Initiative. Please contact us with any further queries you might have.

1. What is the 3R Initiative?

The 3R (Reduce, Recover, Recycle) Initiative (3RI) brings together corporates and NGOs to remove plastic waste from the environment and stimulate plastic recycling. The 3RI catalyzes corporate leadership to reduce plastic waste through internal and supply chain actions, and supports recovery and/or recycling projects to mitigate plastic waste that a company cannot address directly. The goals of the 3RI will be achieved through the Guidelines for Leadership in Corporate Plastic Accounting and the Plastic Crediting Mechanism, which comprises the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (Plastic Standard), a credit registry and a transaction platform (see Diagram 1 below). Please visit the 3R Initiative website for further details.

2. What could be credited under the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (Plastic Standard)?
Projects that measurably increase the recovery and/or recycling of waste plastic above baseline rates – the performance of a project prior to the implementation of the project activity – would be credited under the Plastic Standard. Creditable activities might include: community waste collection from the environment (e.g. rivers, coastlines, open ocean); recovery of recyclable material at landfills by waste pickers; new or expanded municipal or private waste collection infrastructure development; and new or expanded recycling infrastructure development. It is expected that the majority of the credited recovery activities will be located in economies dependent on “informal” waste management, where the waste recovery projects would need to ensure that local waste picker communities are involved in an inclusive and beneficial way.
3. How would different plastics and waste recovery vs. recycling efforts be credited?
A Plastic Credit will be awarded for the additional volumes of plastic waste that have been recovered from the environment and managed in a responsible manner (e.g., recycled, landfilled or incinerated in controlled conditions) or for any plastic recycled that goes beyond a baseline recycling rate. Where possible, Plastic Credits will be issued with an identifier to designate the kind of plastic recovered or recycled (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE)), which corporates (or other buyers) could use to match the plastic type associated with their footprint. The scope of the Plastic Standard sets out the types of plastic/material types that may be used as identifiers.
4. Will the Plastic Standard factor in the environmental impact of different plastic types and formats?
In the future, we would like to develop an “impact equivalency” framework for establishing and communicating the environmental impact of different plastic types (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate (PET) vs. polystyrene (PS)) and formats (e.g., PET bottles vs. thin films) in a standardized unit. Similar to how CO2 equivalency works for standardizing the climate impact of different greenhouse gases, the “plastic impact equivalency” framework — which Conservation International, Quantis and other partners are expected to establish — could help bring attention and resources to projects/activities that recover and/or recycle the most damaging kinds of plastic waste rather than simply prioritizing and rewarding efforts based on tonnes of plastic managed.
5. How will the system ensure that only new or additional project activities are credited?
The Plastic Standard will include rules that ensure that only new or additional project activities are credited and include requirements for establishing credible accounting baselines. For example, the standard may require that projects demonstrate that collection and/or recycling is not common practice in a given operating region. Furthermore, project baselines will be adjusted periodically (e.g., every seven years during crediting period renewal) to reflect the new, increased recovery and recycling rates in the region (which the project has contributed to), raising the bar for the future issuance of Plastic Credits.
6. Who would use the Waste Recovery Credits and Recycling Credits?
Corporates looking to mitigate parts of their plastic footprints that cannot be addressed through direct (internal and supply chain) actions are expected to be the major buyers of Plastic Credits. If desired, corporates could invest in outside projects and/or purchase and retire sufficient volumes of Plastic Credits to help them achieve their plastic management commitments, e.g., “plastic balanced”, “net zero plastic waste”, or “net plastic neutrality”. Companies not interested in crediting could still use the Plastic Standard to assess the quality, effectiveness and social value/safeguards of projects they are developing or supporting, with the Plastic Credits being used to transparently and credibly quantify the associated waste reduction benefits and enable standardized impact comparisons between projects.
7. Are there geographic limitations to where projects can be developed?
The Plastic Crediting Mechanism will credit the recovery and recycling of plastic waste in the same way regardless of where the project is located. However, corporates may prefer to purchase Plastic Credits from projects in their key production regions and/or markets, potentially linking to where the plastic leakage is occurring and/or where there is greatest potential for waste reduction and/or establishing transformative circular economy models. Plastic Credits will have a geographic market identifier as part of their serial numbers.
8. How would waste pickers benefit from the Plastic Crediting Mechanism?
Waste pickers and other informal collectors can generate Waste Recovery Credits (and Recycling Credits) by increasing the amount of waste they collect (and sort for recycling). The sale of these Plastic Credits (e.g., by individuals or cooperatives) would provide additional income for these collectors. The Crediting Mechanism will help set up and professionalize social businesses that provide the needed raw materials to recycling processors, and the Plastic Standard will embed social and environmental safeguards to ensure that all participating waste pickers/collectors have safe working conditions and improved livelihoods. In addition, Waste Recovery Credits and Recycling Credits associated with projects that generate compelling social benefits for waste pickers and other marginalized or vulnerable communities could be labeled as such. This will enable buyers of Plastic Credits to identify and prioritize such “exceptional social value” projects if desired, thereby increasing the flow of funds to these communities.
9. How does the Plastic Crediting Mechanism relate to existing and emerging Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes?
The Crediting Mechanism could help jumpstart EPR schemes with a ready-made (proven) supply of high-quality waste reduction projects and a robust framework (Plastic Standard) to assess various EPR initiatives/activities. In addition, regulators could offer to companies subject to the EPR requirements the ability to use Plastic Credits in lieu of paying EPR fees. This would provide for an efficient transfer of resources directly from covered entities to projects involved in (measurably and verifiably) solving the problem on the ground, thereby reducing the burden on governments. This is analogous to how some national regulators (e.g., in Colombia and South Africa) are allowing covered companies to surrender units certified under the Verified Carbon Standard program (Verified Carbon Units (VCUs)) in lieu of paying a carbon tax.
10. Would the Guidelines for Leadership in Corporate Plastic Accounting promote direct corporate actions to reduce their plastic footprints?
Yes, through robust requirements for how corporates measure and report on their plastic footprints, the standard will motivate companies to take the most meaningful actions to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging, including reducing plastic use where appropriate, increasing the use of recycled and recyclable materials, and investing in waste recovery and recycling infrastructure in their operating regions through the Plastic Crediting Mechanism. Furthermore, by establishing a price on plastic waste, the Crediting Mechanism will enable companies to calculate the total cost of ownership associated with material/packaging design choices, which should support investment decisions to reduce or redesign the use of plastics that have the highest clean-up costs.
11. Is the Plastic Crediting Mechanism a short-term solution?
No, it is a mechanism that can efficiently and effectively support the long-term implementation of both voluntary and compliance (e.g., EPR-related) waste reduction commitments and obligations. In the near term, the Crediting Mechanism will help corporate leaders reduce potential negative externalities associated with their plastic footprints and catalyze investment in new waste recovery and recycling efforts. Over the longer-term, even with aggressive internal (e.g., using 100% recycled and recyclable content) and supply chain actions there will be some uncontrollable plastic leakage (even if just associated with the conversion of plastic feedstocks into containers) from an organization’s value chain, which the Crediting Mechanism could mitigate. The mechanism will evolve over time. It will be used for voluntary commitments in the short term and can eventually become institutionalized, including potentially in regulatory regimes, changing its character in the longer term.
12. How does the 3RI address potential stakeholder concerns about the risk of “greenwashing”?

Greenwashing occurs when disinformation or ineffective actions are presented by a company to create a (falsely) positive environmental public image. The 3RI will be underpinned by the Plastic Standard and the Guidelines for Leadership in Corporate Plastic Accounting (Guidelines) that are created and managed by respected NGOs with broad stakeholder input. The Standard and the guidance will be used to independently assess and transparently report on the effectiveness of waste reduction actions and any associated claims that corporates may make regarding the mitigation of their plastic footprints.

First, the Guidelines will substantiate potential corporate waste reduction claims, including providing rules and requirements for: robustly calculating corporate plastic footprints; defining how companies must aggressively reduce their footprints (including through recycled/recyclable content, supply chain investments, etc.); and, establishing if/how Waste Recovery Credits and Recycling Credits could be used to credibly mitigate potential leakage that companies cannot tackle themselves.

Second, the Plastic Standard will ensure that projects are only credited to the extent they generate verifiable reductions in plastic waste or increase in recycled plastic that would not have occurred without the credit purchases and funding.

13. What are the parallels between the Plastic Crediting Mechanism and carbon markets?

Similar to the role played by the voluntary carbon markets, the Crediting Mechanism will catalyze and support voluntary corporate commitments and leadership to reduce waste and pollution (whether greenhouse gas- or plastic packaging- related) through internal and supply chain actions, along with the use of market mechanisms to mitigate the part of the corporate environmental footprint that cannot be tackled directly. Microsoft and Disney are good examples of leadership companies that are using carbon offsets as a means to address their indirect (GHG Protocol Scope 3) footprints and complement their aggressive reductions in direct (Scope 1 and Scope 2) emissions, enabling them to achieve carbon neutrality. In addition, by supporting carbon projects that generate compelling social and/or environmental value, these companies have been able to go beyond climate change and meet other corporate sustainability and social responsibility objectives. It should also be noted, as has been demonstrated in the carbon space, the cost of offsets (or potentially Plastic Credits) can be charged to individual business units to establish an internal price on carbon (or plastic waste), which creates incentives to reduce operational and product carbon (or plastic) footprints through design, manufacturing and supply chain decisions and investments.

Finally, the potential impact of the Crediting Mechanism could be compared to the voluntary carbon market, where corporate climate neutrality commitments have driven more than USD 5 billion of new funding over the past decade to thousands of projects that have collectively kept more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of 200 million cars or 250 coal-fired power plants.

14. What kinds of corporate claims could be associated with the Plastic Standard?
Corporates can use the Plastic Standard to demonstrate progress towards achieving their commitments around plastic waste reduction. Regardless of the kinds of targets and claims an individual company may choose to communicate and the language they use (e.g., “plastic balanced”, “net zero plastic waste”, “plastic circularity”, “plastic neutrality”, “responsible packaging”), the Plastic Standard will ensure that any such claims are robust and credible and are seen as a part of a broader suite of leadership actions.
15. How does the 3RI relate to other initiatives in this space?

The 3R Initiative has a unique value proposition: it will enable corporates to communicate about their independently verified plastic footprints, and finance plastic recovery and recycling efforts outside their own value chains. These recovery and recycling projects will generate strong sustainable development benefits, including creating safe, well-paid livelihoods for waste pickers and other vulnerable and/or marginalized groups.

Collaboration with others in the space is key to the success of the 3R Initiative. On measurement of plastic footprints and plastic waste, we work with initiatives such as Quantis and EA’s Plastic Leak Project and WWF’s ReSource:Plastic and are taking into account other certification and disclosure efforts, including the Plastic Disclosure Project.

The Plastic Standard Development Committee includes organizations with existing projects, such as Plastic Bank, rePurpose and Project STOP (among others) as well as others working directly with corporates (Lonely Whale), and the corporates themselves that are engaged across many different initiatives in this space (Dow, Mars).

Finally, the 3R Initiative is in regular communication with many other platforms to ensure complementarity of outputs and the greatest combined effort to get plastic waste out of the environment.

16. What is the value proposition of the Plastic Waste Reduction Program (Plastic Program) for various stakeholders?

For consumer goods companies:

  • Enable the robust impact assessment of new waste recovery and recycling projects/investments, whether undertaken by the company, partners or other parties
  • Increase the availability of recycled plastic feedstocks in key packaging production regions (including where waste management or regulations are weak), while improving the livelihoods of waste pickers and other marginalized collectors
  • Reduce supply chain risk by ensuring social inclusiveness through increased wages and safe working conditions in the waste collection and sorting industry, especially in economies dependent on informal waste management systems
  • Enable companies to mitigate the portion of their (or brand’s) plastic waste footprint that cannot be tackled through direct (internal and supply chain) actions
  • Support the credible achievement and transparent communication of circular economy leadership commitments (e.g., zero-waste, net circularity, plastic neutrality) to regulators, consumers and other stakeholders
  • Demonstrate to policymakers, regulators and local authorities how robust, voluntary market mechanisms (e.g., the Plastic Crediting Mechanism) can help jumpstart and support Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and other waste reduction regulations, reducing the burden on governments and establishing globally scalable solutions
  • Provide a means to establish an internal price per tonne for plastic waste mitigation around which investment decisions can be built and motivated

For companies with small plastic footprints:

  • Provide an efficient, off-the-shelf means to address the plastic waste issue, given the inability of small companies to control the production of their packaging and/or develop effective leakage mitigation projects within their supply chains

For informal recycling actors/waste pickers:

  • Provide access to new and additional Plastic Credit revenue streams for informal waste collectors/pickers, bolstering existing incomes from the sale of recycled materials
  • Establish new social safeguards and benefit sharing models with Plastic Program projects and, more widely, to improve the livelihoods and well-being of marginalized and vulnerable communities

For environmental and labor/social NGOs:

  • Incentivize the additional recovery of plastic waste that could otherwise end up in the oceans or other vulnerable ecosystems
  • Catalyze corporate leadership in aggressively reducing the amount of virgin plastic used in their value chains
  • Improve the working conditions, safety and livelihoods of waste pickers and other marginalized and vulnerable waste collectors and sorters
  • Establish more secure and sustainable livelihoods for waste collectors/sorters by providing an alternative revenue stream for recovered waste plastic and buffering incomes from the volatility and price swings associated with global recycled material markets
  • Increased transparency and uniformity to track commitments and actions from industry players
  • Motivate the recovery and recycling (or proper disposal) of more waste plastic than would be credited, translating into net-positive (rather than net-zero) waste reduction benefits from corporate participation

For local authorities and national governments:

  • Incentivize voluntary investment and action in new and expanded recovery and recycling projects to meet or complement municipal and regional waste needs without needing to establish and manage new government programs
  • Enable the robust impact assessment of various waste recovery and recycling options to identify the most efficient and effective activities
  • Allow regulators to bring projects following the Standard into their Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and jumpstart programs with a suite of high-performing projects, which corporates can support (voluntarily or under regulations) to mitigate a portion of their plastic waste footprints

For recycling companies:

  • Significantly increase the availability of feedstock volumes of waste plastic for recycling, improving the economics of existing material recovery facilities and enabling new facilities to be built
  • Greater stability and volume of supplies by increasing the value of waste plastic (and buffering collection efforts from recycled material price swings and market volatility) and sustaining strong relationships with waste collectors and sorters

For infrastructure investors:

  • Improve the internal rate of return of recycling facility and infrastructure investments by providing an additional revenue stream from the collection and recycling of waste plastic
  • Provide a means to establish a global price per tonne for plastic waste mitigation around which investment decisions can be built

For petrochemical companies and resin makers:

  • Create demand for new feedstocks (e.g., with recycled and/or bio-based content) that would reduce corporate plastic footprints
  • Enable the robust impact assessment of new waste recovery and recycling projects/investments (e.g., through the American Chemistry Council and Circulate Capital)
  • Establish a flexible, efficient market mechanism that could address consumer and regulatory concerns about plastic waste

For converters (from raw materials to packaging)

  • Establish a mechanism that could address consumer and regulatory concerns about plastic waste and support the responsible design, use and recovery of plastic packaging where this may be the most attractive, efficient and environmentally friendly material
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