The role of government and civil society in preventing plastic pollution

Oct 22, 2023 Social Awareness, Tips

"My obsession is plastic packaging. It makes me sick, all the waste. Everything about it disappoints me." - Theo James

There was a time, when the native Hawaiians used to gather huge evergreen wood that had washed up on Kamilo Beach from the Pacific Northwest in order to make dugout boats. And now! It is the same beach that has come to be known as a hotspot for plastic garbage and is frequently referred to as "Plastic Beach" only because of the significant amount of plastic rubbish that is carried ashore by Pacific Ocean currents. Thus, plastic pollution which has now become one of the most horrific environmental challenges in the modern world is slowly taking a disastrous turn. Our ecosystems, animals, and public health are seriously threatened by the pervasive presence of plastic debris in our oceans, rivers, and landfills. Therefore, it has become crucial to address this issue, which can only be done by coordinated efforts from the government and the civil society as well.



Plastic pollution is the term used to describe the buildup of plastic garbage in the environment, mainly in landfills, rivers, lakes, and seas. Due to its negative effects on ecosystems, wildlife, and human health, this issue has attracted a lot of attention recently.

Plastic, a synthetic material created from polymers, is utilized extensively in many different sectors and everyday items since it is strong, lightweight, and adaptable. Its longevity, however, is also what makes it a significant environmental issue. Plastics don't naturally degrade for hundreds of years, which keep them around for a long time. Plastic pollution has its roots in diverse sources such as inadequate recycling programmes, industrial waste, littering, and even micro plastics, which are too small to be seen with the naked eye but are present in a variety of products like cosmetics, clothing, and packaging materials. It disrupts the harmony of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, taints soil and water supplies, and releases hazardous substances into the environment. When plastics break down, the buildup of garbage made of plastic can also cause the release of greenhouse gases, which contributes to climate change. Moreover, through the food chain, plastic pollution can have an indirect impact on human health. Plastic can be ingested by marine species and build up in their tissues. If humans consume these organisms, the hazardous compounds found in plastic may enter our bodies and may have a negative impact on our health.

However, in order to address plastic pollution we need a multi-faceted strategy including reducing plastic consumption, strengthening waste management systems, encouraging recycling and alternative materials, and increasing public awareness etc. Governments, industries, and individuals all have a significant responsibility in reducing plastic pollution and protecting the environment.



The rapid growth of civilization has led to an exponential increase in plastic production and consumption. Global plastic manufacturing has exploded in recent years, reaching over 368 million metric tons in 2019. The demand for the ease, affordability, and durability that plastics provide is what's causing this surge in production. The global community has fostered a culture of disposability, where single-use plastic items like plastic bags, bottles, etc. have become pervasive in our daily lives.  The convenience of these products has led to a throwaway mentality, contributing to the accumulation of plastic waste. Inadequate collection, recycling, and disposal systems of these items lead to significant amounts of plastic ending up in landfills, incinerated, or littered in the environment.

Apart from these all, people's reliance on synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, has led to the release of micro plastics and synthetic fibers into the environment. These tiny particles, often released during washing or through the breakdown of larger plastic items, can enter water bodies, soil, and even the air, posing a threat to the ecosystems and potentially entering the food chain.



Although, there is a question mark on the effectiveness of the various steps taken by the government system, we cannot rule out that they have been taking several actions from time to time. Some such initiatives can be discussed as follows-

  • In order to reduce plastic pollution, governments must create comprehensive policies and establish strong legislation. This includes measures like enacting laws banning or restricting the use of single-use plastics, setting up programmes for extended producer responsibility, and promoting eco-friendly plastic substitutes. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), over 127 countries have implemented some form of regulation to address plastic pollution, including bans or taxes on single-use plastics. Moreover, by 2021, the Single-Use Plastics Directive of the European Union, which went into effect in 2019, seeks to outlaw a number of single-use plastic goods, including cutlery, straws, and cotton buds.


  • The responsibility for regulating and upholding plastic pollution laws and policies is on the government. This entails keeping an eye on how rules are being followed, performing inspections, and penalizing offenders. A deterrent effect of effective enforcement motivates businesses and people to adopt sustainable practices.

In India, the state of Maharashtra imposed a ban on single-use plastic products in 2018, leading to a significant reduction in plastic waste and encouraging the use of sustainable alternatives. The Australian state of South Australia also has successfully reduced plastic bag consumption by 80% through the introduction of a plastic bag ban in 2009, coupled with strict enforcement and public education campaigns.


  • The United Nations estimates that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish if current pollution trends continue. In this regard, governments can play a vital role by educating the populace about the dangers of plastic pollution and the value of adopting sustainable lifestyle choices. They can encourage responsible plastic usage, recycling, and waste management practices through educational programmes.


  • Many scientists and researchers have been exploring innovative solutions to plastic pollution, such as biodegradable plastics made from plant-based materials, and advancements in recycling technologies. Governments can invest on their research and development to encourage creativity and the creation of environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic. This may entail contributing to research projects, working with academic institutions, and encouraging the development of eco-friendly industries. As a result of such research, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that the plastic industry may cut its waste production by 50% by 2050 by using circular economy ideas, such as rethinking goods and building recycling infrastructure.



Non-governmental organizations, community groups, and individuals that forms the civil society, plays a crucial role in complementing government efforts in combating plastic pollution. Following are a few crucial roles that civil society can play in reducing plastic pollution-

  1. To address plastic pollution, civil society organisations can push for strict laws and regulations. To sway governmental choices, they can engage in lobbying activities, carry out research, and increase public awareness. Civil society may press for structural changes to lessen plastic waste by enlisting public support. We all know about the ‘Break Free From Plastic’ movement, which was a global initiative that unites more than 11,000 organisations in a concerted effort to strengthen regulations and corporate accountability to reduce the plastic pollution crisis. Moreover, with the help of the ‘Strawless Ocean campaign’, the Plastic Pollution Coalition was able to influence several well-known companies including Starbucks, McDonald's, and Hilton Hotels to phase out plastic straws.


  1. Community-based civil society organisations aim to involve local people in programmes that lessen plastic pollution. They can coordinate cleanup campaigns, support recycling initiatives, and promote green living among local residents and businesses. Civil society promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility towards environmental conservation through community involvement. There are many instances of these endeavours. By encouraging people to sort and recycle their waste, the "Zero Waste" community in Kamikatsu, Japan, has achieved amazing success, preventing approximately 80% of waste from ending up in landfills. The Surfrider Foundation has also gathered millions of pounds of plastic debris from coastlines through its beach clean-up programmes, which involve local communities all around the world.


  1. Governmental organisations, corporations, and other stakeholders can work together with civil society organisations to build successful plans and programmes. These partnerships can encourage innovation, information sharing, and the application of sustainable solutions by combining resources and expertise.


  1. Lastly, but not the least, Consumer education on the effects of plastic pollution and consumer empowerment to make sustainable choices are crucial functions of civil society. Civil society organisations can affect consumer behaviour and promote a shift towards plastic-free alternatives through public campaigns, educational programmes, and social media participation.



Many countries in the world community are already facing the dire consequences of plastic pollution. On the other hand, some others seem to be dealing with this problem with constant efforts. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Ocean, is one of the most well-known examples of extreme plastic waste accumulation. It is estimated to be larger than the size of Texas and contains a high concentration of marine debris, primarily consisting of plastic. The Citarum river, located in West Java, Indonesia, also has been labeled as one of the world's most polluted rivers due to plastic waste. The river is heavily polluted with plastic bottles, bags, and other debris, which affects the surrounding ecosystems and communities. On the other hand, Rwanda implemented one of the world's strictest plastic bag bans in 2008, prohibiting the production, importation, sale, and use of plastic bags. This proactive measure has led to a significant reduction in plastic waste and has been successful in maintaining clean and litter-free streets. Another East African country, Kenya also implemented a complete ban on plastic bags in 2017, imposing hefty fines and even potential imprisonment for violators. This bold action has resulted in a visible reduction in plastic bag usage and an improvement in the country's environmental conditions.

However, since plastic pollution is a global issue that affects countries across borders. The impacts of plastic waste on ecosystems, marine life, and human health are not confined to national boundaries. Recognizing this shared concern, countries can collaborate and cooperate to find common solutions. The Basel Convention on the Control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal, which addresses the management and disposal of plastic trash, is one of the accords and frameworks relating to environmental challenges that have been undertaken by the UN. These instances highlight the proactive steps that different nations have made to address plastic pollution. They serve as an example for other nations to follow and show how committed these countries are to preserving the environment and advancing sustainable lifestyles.



A multifaceted strategy is needed to prevent plastic pollution, with the government and civil society playing balanced roles. While creating and enforcing policies is the job of the government, civil society offers the required advocacy, community involvement, and consumer awareness to promote behavioural change. We can only properly solve the plastic pollution challenge and make the transition to a sustainable future through a concerted effort. Governments and civic society can together create a world that is cleaner, healthier, and more ecologically conscious for coming generations. Just we need to remember that although humans have contributed to plastic pollution, they also have the ability to mitigate its effects. So now is the moment to act and tackle the fundamental causes of plastic pollution, together.


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