Scaling Up Support to Reduce Plastic Pollution and Mitigate Climate Change

Implementing regulations on single-use and disposable plastic items helps reintegrate all materials into the economy. Photo credit: Asian Development Bank.

Share on:           


EPR frameworks, plastic credit schemes, and high-level waste management technologies can support the Global Plastics Treaty implementation.


The excessive production and consumption of plastic has led to major mismanagement of its disposal. This has caused large-scale pollution that negatively impacts the environment, human health, coastal communities, and food chains. Despite this, the production of plastic continues to grow. In 2000–2019, the annual global production of plastics doubled from 234 million metric tons to 460 million metric tons. Under current trends, it is projected that the global production and consumption of plastic will triple by 2060.

Plastic contributes substantially to climate change throughout its life cycle. In 2019, plastics generated 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or 3.8% of the world’s total. According to a 2017 study, 99% of plastics are made from chemicals obtained from fossil fuels and the two sectors are closely linked through production processes and investments. By 2050, the combined GHG emissions from plastic production and incineration are projected to surpass 56 gigatons, representing approximately 10%–13% of the remaining carbon budget (the amount of GHGs that can be emitted to remain within the Paris Agreement targets). In a business-as-usual scenario, plastics could contribute up to 19% of the global GHG emissions allowed to stay within 1.5°C by 2040.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a policy brief that takes a closer look at how the anticipated Global Plastics Treaty can help Asia and the Pacific implement circular economy solutions to meet low-carbon goals. Through an analysis of the plastic life cycle, the brief shares how the agreement can be leveraged for investment opportunities and country support around treaty implementation.

Plastics-Climate Change Nexus

Every stage of the plastic life cycle—from extraction and processing of raw materials to the design, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, utilization, maintenance, and end-of-life management—contributes to the generation of GHG emissions. This can be divided into the following three main stages:

  1. Extraction and production. Significant GHG emissions are generated from methane leakage and emissions from fuel combustion, as well as the energy consumed during the drilling process for oil or gas. Plastic production processes are highly energy-intensive. In 2015, the primary production of plastics alone resulted in the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
  2. Disposal and waste management. Incineration and open burning are the main sources of GHG emissions in plastic waste management. Plastics also contain harmful additives that can be released into the environment during the combustion process. In 2015, the net GHG emissions from incinerating plastics packaging reached 16 million metric tons.
  3. Plastic pollution in the marine environment. At least 14 million tons of plastic pollution enter the ocean every year. When plastic waste breaks down, it fragments into smaller pieces called microplastics, which limit the ocean’s ability to effectively absorb and retain carbon. Mismanaged plastic pollution may indirectly contribute to climate change by disrupting the carbon sequestration of foundational species in ocean food chains.
Opportunities for Climate Change Mitigation

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a resolution with the objective of ending plastic pollution. This resolution outlined a target to draft an internationally legally binding agreement (or the “Global Plastics Treaty”) on plastics by 2024, to be opened for adoption by countries by 2025. It aims to create a comprehensive framework that addresses all aspects of the plastic life cycle.

Opportunities to achieve co-benefits for climate change mitigation may include the following:

EPR schemes that cover the entire life cycle of products and packaging hold producers responsible for the environmental impacts of their goods through legal and financial obligations. This approach helps prolong the lifespan of products and materials and prioritizes efficient resource utilization.

Source reduction or reducing the generation of waste significantly decreases emissions associated with raw material acquisition and manufacturing processes. Under the Global Plastics Treaty, it can involve implementing regulations on single-use and disposable plastic items, eco-design for recyclability, and promotion of reuse systems, ensuring that all materials are reintegrated into the economy.

Approaches to low-carbon usage in the plastics industry involve using renewable energy sources, enhancing energy efficiency during production processes, and exploring carbon capture technologies. Regulatory measures, such as policies for air quality standards and emission targets and incentivizing energy-efficient alternatives in plastics production, can also be considered.

The Global Plastics Treaty can include measures that regulate the incineration and open burning of plastic waste, reducing GHG emissions. However, this would mean more than just discontinuing incineration and unsustainable waste management practices. Optimizing the reuse and recyclability of all waste streams through efficient source separation of waste would also be necessary.

Potential Interventions

Global Plastics Treaty elements include core obligations, control measures, and voluntary approaches to address plastic pollution, as well as the establishment of implementation measures and the means of implementing them. These recommendations cover potential components of the Global Plastics Treaty that could yield co-benefits for climate change mitigation.

Possible core obligations, control measures, and voluntary approaches

To effectively combat plastic pollution, a diverse set of control measures must be in place to address the elimination, reduction, safe circulation, and sound management of plastic waste.

  • Upstream life cycle approach. There are proposals to identify plastic products that are unnecessary and contribute to pollution, including single-use plastics. By reducing or eliminating the use of such products, the economic viability of recycling can improve, encouraging the growth of a strong recycling market. It is also important to address the leakage of microplastics.
  • Midstream life cycle approach. Designing and promoting products and packaging for reuse and recyclability can encourage recycling of plastic. Effectively implemented EPR schemes can promote the growth of the recycling market, incentivize producers to design circular products, and reduce the leakage of plastic waste into the environment.
  • Downstream life cycle approach. To comprehensively address plastic pollution, it is essential to prevent the leakage of plastics into the natural environment. Measures should also address the impacts of plastic incineration and open burning, which release toxic chemicals, such as dioxins and furans, and contribute to pollution.

Means of implementation

Means of implementation refers to the essential resources, policies, and actions needed for all parties to fulfill their obligations under the Global Plastics Treaty. This primarily involves financial assistance, technology transfer, and capacity building for developing countries to meet their commitments under the agreement.

Financial assistance is necessary to meet commitments associated with infrastructure, technology adoption, and monitoring systems. This can help parties fulfill their obligations and promote fairness by enhancing implementation capacities, particularly for countries with limited resources. The financial aspects of the Global Plastics Treaty have not yet been determined, but it is anticipated that a financial mechanism will be developed to implement its provisions.

Implementation measures

Global Plastics Treaty implementation measures may include national plans, national reporting requirements, provisions for ensuring compliance, regular assessments, and reporting. National action or implementation plans could serve as the catalyst for establishing appropriate policy, legislative, and institutional frameworks to effectively implement the agreement's provisions. Incorporating national reporting requirements allows parties to share their knowledge, experiences, and challenges. It can also identify areas that require support and prioritization and facilitate the exchange of best practices and innovative approaches among parties, promoting collaboration.

Assistance for Climate Change Mitigation and Plastic Pollution Reduction

ADB can provide financial and technical assistance to help developing member countries (DMCs) prepare for the Global Plastics Treaty rollout by supporting the development of action plans and reforming policies to promote a circular economy for plastics. This is covered by a regional technical assistance project, Promoting Action on Plastic Pollution from Source to Sea in Asia and the Pacific. The project offers support for plastic pollution reduction investments and integrated solid waste management systems in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

In anticipation of the Global Plastics Treaty implementation, ADB can further assist DMCs in reducing plastic pollution through the following:

  • Development of extended producer responsibility frameworks
    • EPR acts as a regulatory framework that sets mandatory collection targets and serves as a financing mechanism for waste collection, sorting, and recycling. It incentivizes producers to minimize waste generation and improve the design of their products and packaging by holding them accountable for their products until the post-consumer stage of the lifecycle.
    • ADB can support policy reform and capacity development in the implementation and development of EPR frameworks. ADB can assist DMCs in aligning policy and investment with country goals and obligations.
  • Scaling up of plastic credit schemes
    • Plastic crediting is an innovative finance mechanism, which utilizes transferable units that represent plastic collected and recycled from the environment. Crediting mechanisms can improve the livelihoods and working conditions of informal waste workers. Sales derived from informal waste sector activities create opportunities for poverty alleviation and can also be utilized to promote women empowerment and address gender disparities.
    • ADB can support a plastic credit system that facilitates standardized tracking and accreditation of plastic collection and recycling efforts as well as independent audits to measure the actual reduction of plastic waste. Purchasing credits can generate funds to support collection and recycling projects.
  • Digital and high-level technology solutions for plastic waste management
    • Circular economy approaches benefit from digital and high-level technology solutions. These include technology projects that prevent, reduce, collect, recycle, and clean up plastic waste, enhancing the value chain of plastic waste management.
    • ADB can support digital road maps to improve the digitalization of the plastic waste management system. Current ADB efforts under the plastic pollution reduction technical assistance covering the digitalization of waste management include screening and testing digital solutions, establishing data governance protocols, and creating a Plastic Management Open Data Platform. Another solution being explored is an app-based blockchain system that captures and verifies recycled plastic volumes from the informal sector to the remanufacturer.
Support for the Development of Financing Systems

Multilateral development banks will be instrumental in attracting investments to address plastic pollution that aligns with global, regional, and national goals. ADB can support the development of finance systems that will implement core elements of the Global Plastics Treaty. In particular, ADB’s role in building the next generation of investments through sovereign and private sector lending may include

Sovereign lending plays a vital role in the successful implementation of the Global Plastics Treaty. As countries aim to comply with the agreement's requirements and develop national action plans, they are likely to establish governance systems requiring policy and institutional reform. ADB can support governments to establish enabling frameworks for the Global Plastics Treaty implementation, such as policy-based and sectoral loans to spur action on specific policies such as EPR and new or revised national standards or regulations for plastics in accord with the treaty.

ADB’s existing financing facilities can provide project preparation support through technical assistance, aligning with green and blue project criteria, and pooling public and private sector funds. DMCs will need to access financing to meet their Global Plastics Treaty obligations. ADB can leverage its initiatives like the Blue Southeast Asia (SEA) Finance Hub, Blue Pacific Finance Hub, the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility, and the Ocean Resilience and Coastal Adaptation Trust Fund to facilitate compliance with the treaty's requirements.

ADB can leverage the GPT to attract more private sector loans. ADB operations can assist in identifying, preparing, and implementing government and private sector actions and investments aimed at reducing marine plastic pollution under the Global Plastics Treaty.

Investments in the private sector can be supported through blue loans. ADB has issued several blue loans to support the expansion of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling capacity, including Indorama Ventures Group (IVG) for PET recycling expansion in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand and to PT ALBA Tridi Plastics Recycling in Indonesia.

Private sector project assessment criteria and environmental due diligence must be enhanced to prepare for the Global Plastics Treaty implementation. Projects need to have appropriate standards that incorporate environmental and social safeguard requirements and activities that effectively mitigate climate impacts and social risks across the plastic value chain. ADB’s Ocean Finance Framework could provide operational direction as it provides specific guidance on ADB criteria for blue investments.


Action and support toward the Paris Agreement and eventual Global Plastics Treaty goals would facilitate an inclusive transition of the informal sectors of society and contribute to poverty alleviation. Sustainable finance is key to facilitating policy reform, development projects, and technologies to advance circular economy solutions; implementing the Global Plastics Treaty; and addressing climate change. For Asia and the Pacific, ADB stands ready to support policy and investments toward a just transition for all and achieve global, regional, and national climate and plastic pollution reduction ambitions.


Asian Development Bank. 2023. Addressing Plastic Pollution for Climate Benefits: Opportunities in the Global Plastics Treaty for Asia and the Pacific. Manila: ADB.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). 2019. Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet. Washington, DC.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2022. Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Roger Joseph (Rocky) Guzman
International Governance, Policy and Legal Consultant, Asian Development Bank

Rocky Guzman is the International Governance, Policy and Legal Consultant as part of ADB’s Regional Technical Assistance: Promoting Action on Plastic Pollution from Source to Sea in Asia and the Pacific. He is an environmental lawyer and policy specialist with extensive background on oceans issues. Rocky has worked on topics from plastic pollution and marine conservation to strengthening environmental rights and the rule of environmental law. He is currently the Deputy Director of the Asian Research Institute for Environmental Law.

Follow Roger Joseph (Rocky) Guzman on

James Baker
Senior Circular Economy Specialist (Plastic Wastes), Climate Change, Resilience, and Environment Cluster, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank

James Baker leads the regional marine plastics reduction program and supports operationalization of Strategy 2030 Operational Priority 3 and the Healthy Oceans Action Plan. He also supports country programming and sovereign and private sector project teams in identifying and promoting circular economy activities within their programs and investments. Prior to ADB, he was in senior project development and investment roles, and his background was in industrial recycling. He is studying for his PhD at University of Leeds.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

Follow Asian Development Bank (ADB) on
Leave your question or comment in the section below:

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.