Podcast: Ocean Plastic Solutions from Cities, Brands & Waste Collectors
09 July 2020 - In our latest episode of  NothingWasted!, we chat with Susan Ruffo, executive director of The Circulate Initiative, which aims to incubate, measure, and amplify inclusive solutions that stop plastic waste from flowing into the ocean. 

It provides entrepreneurs, policymakers, and investors with the knowledge and skills they need to incentivize, create, support, and operate waste-reducing circular economies.

We spoke with Susan about the circular economy, the effects of COVID-19 on the plastics problem, innovation abroad, and more!

Here’s a glimpse into what we discussed:

Waste360: Can you talk about the Urban Ocean program and how your group is working with cities to improve their waste management practices?

Ruffo: Urban Ocean is a new program that The Circulate Initiative, Ocean Conservancy, and the Global Resilient Cities Network has just launched with five cities primarily in South- and Southeast Asia but also in Latin America. Our goal is to get all of our partners working together on the issue of ocean plastics but also on related issues touching on waste management, circularity, public health, and other sustainability and economic issues. Our theory is that none of us can do any of these things alone, but we can advance all of our priorities if we’re working together.

Waste360: How key are cities in addressing the marine plastic waste problem?

Ruffo: To me they’re absolutely key. I take inspiration from the leadership cities have shown on the climate issue. If you look at cities around the world and see what they are doing on reducing emissions, changing transportation, changing buildings, and really leading the discussion on what can be done on climate… I think cities can do the same on ocean plastics. They have a lot of the authority to do what needs to be done in thinking about waste management and recycling; they also have direct access to their citizens and can do public awareness campaigns and education; and they can pass regulations and incentives that really can help move things forward. So I think they’re an absolutely key actor that hasn’t been engaged as much as they should be on the ocean plastic issue—so we’re trying to change that.

Waste360: You have said that part of the problem is that ocean waste is not a priority concern for developing nations. How do we make it more of a priority for these governments?

Ruffo: It’s just a hard issue to put at the top of the agenda when these governments are dealing with things like poverty, feeding people, public health. But the key is that it’s not a standalone issue. Ocean plastic is not just about the ocean—and as soon as we start thinking of it in that way, it becomes much more interesting to city governments. I wouldn’t expect any mayor to tell me that his or her top priority was keeping plastic out of the ocean. But I’d be really surprised if a mayor said they weren’t interested in public sanitation, picking up trash, the jobs they could create, safety and dignified work. So when you start thinking of it as a broader issue, it comes much higher up on a priority list. 

Waste360: Can you give us an overview of your panel at the recent Virtual Ocean Dialogues hosted by the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action?

Ruffo: We had a great panel bringing together representatives from around the world and across sectors. For me the most interesting thing was how the panelists talked about how they can start working with each other. For instance, there was a whole discussion about how city policies could recognize workers in the informal sector and help them be more efficient while also improving their livelihood.


Listen to the Podcast here:

Image by bilyjan from Pixabay 

Viet Nam's work to address marine plastic pollution
Viet Nam is creating its first zero plastic waste city: Here's how
03 July 2020 - Only 10-15 % of collected waste in Viet Nam is reused or recycled. A new Zero Plastic Waste City project will model local solutions. The project is centred on a social business-driven approach. The chosen pilot city will be announced later in 2020.
03 July 2020 - Five South-East Asian countries are responsible for more marine plastic waste leakage than the rest of the world combined - and Viet Nam is one of them. While the Mekong River plays a crucial role in the socio-economic development of the region, it also ranks among the 10-most impactful sources of global marine litter.

The main causes behind Vietnamese land-based marine litter can be attributed to a combination of rising consumption and poor national waste management. Alongside Viet Nam's rapid economic development over the past decades, the country's solid waste generation has also increased consistently at annual rates of around 10%. Only about 10-15% of collected waste in Viet Nam is reused or recycled; much of the remainder is sent to dump sites and incineration facilities, underlining the necessity of more sustainable approaches to solid waste management in the country.

With currently more than 2,000 small-scale enterprises and high industrial growth rates, plastic recycling constitutes a very promising industry in Viet Nam. However, until recently, most of the plastic material recycled in Viet Nam was imported from other countries such as China. In an effort to avoid a dramatic increase of global waste streams to the country, the Vietnamese government banned the import of material for recycling in 2018, an act that has boosted demand for recyclable domestic plastic waste. Accordingly, the most severe barriers that hinder an improvement in Vietnamese plastic waste management are found in the inadequate or non-existent disposal, collection and segregation of waste at household and provincial level. Due to insufficient investments in waste recycling technologies and resources, most Vietnamese provinces are not adequately equipped for the separated collection of waste at source.

On-the-ground studies show that neighbourhoods that enjoy regular waste collection benefit from an effective and cost-efficient service. However, many communities remain unreached by regular collection services. In response, local households dispose of their municipal waste independently via measures such as incineration or dumping. While these informal and uncoordinated activities not only cause harmful direct effects such as air pollution and the spread of mosquitoes, they also indirectly foster marine litter along the entire Mekong Delta.

It is precisely against this backdrop of much-needed capacity building in strategic municipal waste segregation, collection and recycling that the Zero Plastic Waste City project was initiated as a collaboration between The Grameen Creative Lab and The Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Consisting of a modular social business approach, the programme aims to increase the waste collection rates of currently unconsidered waste types and increase the amount of waste being reused for new purposes, while simultaneously empowering local waste pickers. The modular approach allows for the development of a social business based on the needs of local communities as well as the gaps in the waste value chain, and which is integrated into the existing ecosystem of local waste management stakeholders. Social businesses - a concept developed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and co-founder of The Grameen Creative Lab, Muhammad Yunus - base their business activities not on the maximization of profits but on solving their customers' specific social or environmental problems. They combine the best of two worlds: the social mission of a charitable organization with the business acumen of traditional for-profit businesses, ensuring long-term financial self-sustainability.

To ensure the successful implementation of the Zero Plastic Waste City approach in terms of both a long-lasting socio-environmental impact within the project region as well as a contribution to the global effort to reduce marine plastic litter, the project’s specific locations will be identified according to a variety of factors such as their proximity to rivers or the sea, and a current high volume of solid waste leakage. Furthermore, in order to specifically target municipal waste collection schemes, the project will be primarily implemented in small and medium-sized urban areas. In Viet Nam, these criteria should ensure a high probability of success for the Zero Plastic Waste City programme. Furthermore, the project is potentially scalable along the entire Mekong Delta as well as through an extensive local network of partner organizations.

In the Mekong Delta particularly, the price sensitivity of existing informal schemes of waste collection and recycling constitutes a remarkable finding by our on-site investigations and a particular challenge of local waste management schemes. In many municipalities, informal waste pickers collect and recycle household waste in addition to governmental waste management services or as full substitution of them. However, interviews with local waste pickers indicate that their informal collection and recycling services highly depend on local market prices for recyclable materials. If revenues on secondary materials are low, informal collection and recycling rates drop. These findings not only stress the importance of market mechanisms in understanding informal sector value creation; more importantly, they underline the need for formal employment opportunities and stable wages for waste collectors from the informal sector – one of the major contributions of the Zero Plastic Waste City project.

Grameen Creative Lab is currently identifying local partners for implementation, aligning other stakeholders in the areas and initiating pilot assessments. The city will be announced in early 2020 and Grameen Creative Lab will also explore approaches to scale these social businesses to additional cities in 2021. We look forward to working with platforms like the Global Plastic Action Partnership, which launched its first pilot in Indonesia and will soon partner with the Government of Viet Nam, to drive effective action against plastic pollution in Viet Nam and its neighbouring countries, paving the way towards a more sustainable and pollution-free ASEAN region.


Image: Grameen Creative Lab

Chairman of Indonesia's Waste Pickers Union (IPI) on COVID-19
03 July 2020 - This video message was created by IPI and shared during the NPAP Indonesia Digital Conference on 22 April 2020.
The business case for tackling plastic waste
03 July 2020 - Plastics reduction and climate change are sustainable investors' top priorities. Solutions to plastic waste must come from all sectors. Financial institutions have a unique vantage point from which to address this issue.

03 July 2020 - The World Economic Forum's Global Plastic Action Partnership sat down with Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Investing at Morgan Stanley, to discuss the role financial institutions can play in tackling plastic waste.

What is ‘sustainable finance’? How is it different from ‘business as usual’?

We define sustainable investing as taking traditional investment practices and strategies and enhancing them with additional insights gained from considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. We believe this can provide added insights into risks that could affect investments, as well as provide unique opportunities for investors.

Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing has been polling investors since 2015 on their thoughts and attitudes around ESG. Over that time, investor interest in sustainable investing has grown from 71% in 2015, to 75% in 2017, and jumped to 85% among US investors last year. Investors have also told us they believe their investment decisions can impact the issues they care about most, with 84% wanting products that will allow them to match their investment choices with their values, and 86% saying that they believe ESG practices may potentially lead to better profitability and maybe better long-term investments.

When we asked investors last year about which areas of ESG they were most passionate, climate change and plastic reduction topped their list. In 2018, the number of earnings calls that included mentions of “plastic waste” increased 340% year over year. Matching this growth in interest, the amount of assets allocated towards sustainable investing has also grown; in the US, $3 trillion was allocated to sustainable investments in 2009, and by 2018, this had quadrupled to $12 trillion. Globally, one in every three dollars is now focused on sustainable assets, topping $30 trillion — up 34% over the previous two years. More recently, green bonds have experienced significant growth — from $2.6 billion in 2012 to more than $200 billion in 2019.

One obstacle to sustainable investing is the myth that doing so means sacrificing returns. In fact, our own analysis of 11,000 mutual and exchange-traded funds over 15 years finds that sustainable funds do not deliver lower returns – but they may offer lower downside risk. They exhibit less volatility, and on average, the downside deviation of sustainable funds is 20% smaller than traditional funds.

I believe sustainable investing will continue to accelerate and attract more assets as investors increasingly recognize the value of ESG data, driving the full integration of sustainable investing into mainstream investing.

You’ve pledged to prevent, reduce and remove 50 million metric tons of plastic waste from the environment by 2030. How will you achieve this?

In April 2019, we made a major firm-wide commitment, the Morgan Stanley Plastic Waste Resolution, to facilitate the prevention, reduction and removal of 50 million metric tons of plastic waste from rivers, oceans, landscapes and landfills by 2030. We believe that tackling the plastic waste problem will take a systemic and holistic approach across the economy that considers everything from materials engineering and industrial design to consumer use and recycling infrastructure. It will require cross-sector collaboration from governments, philanthropy, industry, finance and individuals.

To meet this goal, we are leveraging all of Morgan Stanley’s businesses and our operations to reduce plastic waste by developing new investment products, underwriting bonds to help reduce plastic waste and offering low-minimum portfolios to positively influence the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal on ocean conservation while we continue to work with municipalities, public agencies, universities, hospital systems and other public and not-for-profit entities to finance improvements to collection, recycling and disposal systems for plastic waste.

We hope that our pledge inspires other businesses and financial institutions, and so far we’ve seen some really amazing progress. In April, we underwrote a $10 million World Bank blue bond with proceeds focused on plastic waste reduction in oceans and the promotion of marine resources. Just six months later, we were the sole green structuring advisor and lead underwriter for PepsiCo’s $1 billion inaugural green bond offering that focused on key initiatives around PepsiCo's sustainability agenda, including their commitment to reduce the virgin plastic content across their beverage portfolio by 35% by 2025.

What role can – and should – financial institutions play in accelerating action on plastic pollution?

We’ve always believed that solutions at scale have to come from across the plastics value chain because no one company, industry sector or individual alone can clear away the billions of metric tons of plastic waste already in our environment or curb the ever-increasing amount of new plastic waste that is generated daily. Currently 79% of all the plastic waste ever produced remains with us. Plastic packaging worth up to $120 billion per year is used once and then thrown away. This is an enormous waste of resources.

As a global financial institution, we believe that we have a unique vantage point from which to work with the different actors who need to be a part of plastic waste solutions. We can also connect investors seeking to align their portfolios with plastic waste reduction to the entrepreneurs and corporations focusing on creating less plastic waste. By bridging these investors and companies, we believe we can contribute to the systems change we need to retain the beneficial qualities of plastic in the economy, while reducing the environmental downside of plastic waste.

Read the full article here:

Basics of a Circular Economy
02 July 2020 - The Smart Cities first webinar held on 21 May 2020, organised by the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development and in partnership with Metabolic with featuring speakers from UNDP Kenya.

About the speakers:

Tamara Streefland leads Metabolic’s Cities Program, connecting urban professionals around the world with high-impact circular economy strategies. Tamara has worked on a wide range of urban resilience projects, focused on integrating biodiversity in cities, community health, and water- and waste systems, in cities including Amsterdam, Warsaw, and New York City. Her background as an earth scientist, coupled with experience in collaborative design and systems thinking, allows her to integrate knowledge on ecological impacts with creative solutions that engage novel technologies and are sensitive to social issues. She also enjoys teaching on the topic of complex contemporary urban challenges.

Mr. Geoffrey Omedo is a Portfolio Analyst within the Environment and Resilience Unit of the UNDP Kenya Country Office. He is a climate change expert with over 15 years of experience within the Government of Kenya and the United Nations system (United Nations Development Program - UNDP, United Nations Industrial Development Organization-UNIDO, United Nations Office for Project Services – UNOPS, United Nations Volunteers Program – UNV). Mr. Omedo’s professional career has covered 4 UN Agencies (UNV, UNOPS, UNIDO, and UNIDO) where he has coordinated and technically supported programs in natural resource management, climate change, energy, water, agriculture among others. His current area of specialty is in climate change programs (mitigation, adaptation) and specifically sustainable and innovative financing models.

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Hamamatsu Voluntary Local Review Report 2019
01 July 2020 - 

Hamamatsu City is a government ordinance designated city, located between Tokyo and Osaka along the Pacific coast, with an area of 1,558km2 and a population of about 800,000. The population of the city is on a downward trend from its peak in 2008. It is projected that the population trend will continue and the aging ratio (27% as of 2018) will increase. One of the features with regard to the population in Hamamatsu is the number of foreign nationals, which accounts for 3% of the total population, 1% higher than the national average.

As a result of the merger of 12 local municipalities in July 2005, Hamamatsu became the second largest municipal area nationwide with diverse natural and social environment that includes urban, rural, mountainous and hilly areas. For this reason, it is referred to as a government ordinance-designated city that is a model of Japan in miniature. With rich forest and fishery resources, the primary industry is thriving in Hamamatsu. In addition, the city is famous for manufacturing and is the location of large corporations that are active on the global stage, such as Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawai, Hamamatsu Photonics, Roland, and FCC. Not only large companies but also small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and venture companies are also active. The higher ratio of primary and secondary industries compared to other government-ordinance designated cities in Japan is one of the characteristics of Hamamatsu.


Hamamatsu City faces various challenges including the administrative costs to maintain and upgrade municipal services covering large administrative area, independence of underpopulated areas, administrative services that can meet to socio-economic environment and social needs that changes according to the population decline, low birthrate and progressive aging society, and co-existence with foreign residents. Against the background of the nuclear disaster as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent deregulation of the electric power industry, Hamamatsu is also facing the need to put measures in place to continue to secure a stable supply of energy and to protect people’s lives and livelihoods against natural disasters (disaster prevention and mitigation).

Localisation and mainstreaming of the SDGs in Hamamatsu City

To tackle with a lot of local challenges, Hamamatsu City is managing city administration in partnership with various local stakeholders and by leveraging municipal budgets and local resources effectively. The Hamamatsu City Comprehensive Plan, the 30-year plan from 2015 is integrated with the principles of the SDGs, and therefore the city is promoting the SDGs implementation through the implementation of the comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan of the city was drawn up using backcasting techniques. The comprehensive plan includes 12 vision-points for the desirable future of city called the “One Dozen Futures” and sets out comprehensive policies to achieve the vision. In the process of making the comprehensive plan, "the Hamamatsu Future Design Council" composed of experts and citizens having different backgrounds was established to review and discuss the plan. In addition to the discussion at the Council, the city interviewed citizens to hear and reflect more voices from citizens.

Read the full report here or download the attached PDF of the report.

Voluntary Subnational Review: Oaxaca, Mexico
01 July 2020 - This preliminary version of the Voluntary Subnational Review is a first report on the activities that Oaxaca has carried out in relation to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, as well as a space for reflection and self-evaluation that identifies the challenges and lessons learned.

This exercise will be complemented by a methodology that enables the inclusion of citizens, academia, and the productive sector to evaluate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the state and municipalities. Additionally, management and performance indicators will have to be built to allow monitoring and faithful monitoring of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its impact, in order to generate periodic evaluations of the work carried out in the state and municipalities.

Subnational Level

1. As part of the efforts at the subnational level, a diagnosis was made of the situation in Oaxaca to determine the level of linkage between the planning structure and the state priorities with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • An analysis of the compatibility of the goals of the 17 SDGs with the objectives set out in the 2016-2022 State Development Plan
  • An exercise to link the 97 indicators of the 2018 budget programs with the 240 indicators of the 2030 Agenda
  • A classification of the 240 indicators of the 2030 Agenda according to the competencies, attributions, and scope of the 32 dependencies that make up the State Public Administration

2. The Legal Group made a proposal to reform the State Planning Law with the modification of 27 of its 121 articles, with the objective that the SDGs are considered in the planning process and that sustainable development is understood in its three dimensions: social, economic, and environmental.

3. The 2016-2022 State Development Plan is the governing document of public policy in Oaxaca. Currently, work is being done to update this plan with a focus on sustainability framed in the 2030 Agenda.

4. In 2018, the 12 sector plans, which establish the priorities, objectives, goals; as well as the current expenditure and investment estimates of each sector for the fulfillment of its objectives, were aligned in its strategic framework to the 2030 Agenda.

5. Three trainings were carried out during 2019 related to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for state public officials, municipal authorities, the staff of the Technical Liaison Modules, and for students of the Economics Department at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University.

Multi-Actor Alliances

1. The methodology for the inclusion of civil society, academia, and the productive sector was set up through which three Working Committees have formed: 1) Social Inclusion, 2) Economic Growth and 3) Environmental Sustainability, considering the three dimensions of sustainable development. These committees are integrated by representatives of state agencies, civil society, academia, and the productive sector. They aim to be a space for public policy innovation.

2. The Government of the State of Oaxaca has a technical cooperation agreement with the GIZ, which has the purpose of contributing to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the state and municipal level so that the vision of sustainable development is adopted for the fulfillment of the SDGs.

Municipal Level

1. As part of the technical cooperation with the GIZ, the Municipal Sustainable Development Plans Guide was prepared, which has as its main objective to guide the municipal governments in the preparation of the Municipal Development Plans with a participatory approach and sustainable development.

2. Likewise, in this same cooperation, a pilot sample of 10 municipalities was chosen to work in a coordinated manner with the GIZ and the Technical Work Committee in municipal planning, the prioritization of works, and citizen participation.

3. In order to strengthen the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, 547 Municipal Social Development Councils have been installed, which are spaces for a plural and inclusive participation and dialogue for the implementation of this agenda and are constituted as instances of linkage of the three levels of government, the social, and private sectors.

Read the full report here or download the attached PDF of the report.

Webinar: Cities and Covid-19 - food access for vulnerable communities in practice
01 July 2020 - The Covid-19 pandemic is putting pressure on food supply chains, both globally and locally, disrupting urban food systems worldwide. This is posing a number of challenges for cities that must quickly react to ensure that all their citizens continue to access safe and nutritious food.

FAO, UNEP, ICLEI, RUAF and Rikolto share the experiences of 3 cities: New York City (USA), Kampala (Uganda) and Quito (Ecuador).

Plastic waste surges across cities as coronavirus prompts restaurants to use more disposable packaging
01 July 2020 - Before the start of the coronavirus outbreak, cities and states were making some progress on banning plastic bags, shifting from single-use plastic to paper products, and encouraging shoppers to bring reusable bags. But now health concerns over Covid-19 have reversed that progress. Some cities have rolled back the bans on plastic bags and retailers are stopping customers from using reusable bags.

01 July 2020 - As the country re-opens after months of lockdowns, consumers and restaurants have become more dependent on single-use plastic bags, containers, and utensils due to health concerns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the start of the coronavirus outbreak, cities and states were making some progress on banning plastic bags, shifting from single-use plastic to paper products, and encouraging shoppers to bring reusable bags. But now health concerns over Covid-19 have reversed that progress. Some cities have rolled back the bans on plastic bags and retailers are stopping customers from using reusable bags.

The surge in single-use plastic is a major blow to the fight against plastic pollution, which is projected to increase by 40% in the next decade, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund. 

The problem is especially apparent in the restaurant industry and its increased reliance on food delivery services. Many restaurants, even those that were curbing plastic waste prior to the pandemic, are not limiting the amount of plastic involved in takeout orders. 

For instance, popular chain Just Salad was producing reusable bowls that saved more than 75,000 pounds of plastic a year. When the pandemic hit the chain, the company immediately halted the program, shuttered restaurants, and pivoted to delivery and pick up — both of which meant using only disposable packaging.

“The environmental fallout is definitely real,” said Sandra Noonan, Just Salad’s chief sustainability officer.

The shift by the salad chain is similar to that of many popular restaurants when the pandemic hit, including Starbucks and Dunkin’, which stopped letting customers use reusable mugs.

Green Restaurant Association CEO Michael Oshman said that it’s too early to predict how much more waste has been generated due to the pandemic.

But most local economies don’t have the infrastructure in place for reusable or compostable takeout packaging. And environmentalists warn the pandemic threatens to scare consumers away from reusable products just as progress was being made.

“The plastic industry seized on the pandemic as an opportunity to try to convince people that single-use plastic is necessary to keep us safe and that reusables are dirty and dangerous,” said John Hocevar, ocean campaign director at Greenpeace. “The fact that neither of these things is supported by the best available science was irrelevant.” 

“Exploitation of Covid-19 fears ultimately made people less safe, distracting attention from the need to focus on the risk of airborne transmission and critical measures like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing,” he added. 

A major challenge will be reinstating zero waste policies when the pandemic finally subsides, though there is an opportunity for delivery services to establish themselves as zero waste options and develop returnable or reusable systems. 

But one fix could be relatively easy for restaurants to adopt: asking customers to opt-in if they want plastic utensils with their pickup or delivery orders, which typically include a slew of single-use plastic products. 

Just Salad implemented the change to its own online-ordering platform around the start of lockdowns and said it saved them money and reduced utensil use on those orders by 88%. The chain’s sustainability officer is talking with third-party delivery services to make the shift universal.

While Oshman urges restaurants to try to find better solutions than single-use plastics — like using disposable packaging made with high post-consumer waste — he also said that operators can look to make changes elsewhere to mitigate the environmental cost of business.


Image: A woman wearing a face mask and a plastic bag pulls a cart loaded with bags of recyclables through the streets of Lower Manhattan during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) on April 16, 2020 in New York City. (Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images)