Trade-Related Policy Measures to Reduce Plastic Pollution: Building on the state of play

As international efforts to tackle plastic pollution are underway at both the United Nations and the WTO, this report examines the trade-related plastic pollution-reduction measures that have already been taken and notified by members of the WTO. By providing a detailed overview of existing policy interventions, the report aims to contribute to ongoing discussions on what further steps could be taken by governments in their efforts to address this complex environmental challenge, either individually or collectively.

With the ubiquitous use of plastics in modern societies, plastic pollution has become one of the defining environmental challenges of our time. Governments across the world have already recognized this, undertaking a variety of measures to curb the reliance on the plastics and plastic products that they consider to be the most harmful, or the least necessary, and setting in motion international cooperation processes at both the UN and the WTO to find collective solutions.

As these international discussions proceed, this report aims to shed light on the trade-related measures that have already been taken and notified by WTO members in their efforts to reduce plastic pollution. It provides a detailed examination of these existing measures and offers suggestions on how governments across the world could build on them as they consider their next individual or collective steps in addressing the plastics crisis.

The report starts by providing a general overview of the trade-related plastic pollution-reduction measures notified by WTO members, including their distribution by region, development status, types of targeted products, as well as types of policy measures. The report then dives into more detail on the most common approaches taken by members, with a particular focus on bans. It zooms in on a number of concrete examples, illustrating the variety of ways in which members have chosen to establish such prohibitions, in particular regarding the plastic products that are targeted and how such prohibitions are constructed. Some of the less frequently notified kinds of measures are also highlighted.

Based on this mapping, the report then concludes by highlighting three broad objectives that policy-makers should pursue as they contemplate and design their next steps in the fight against plastic pollution:

  • Enhanced transparency and experience sharing: making existing efforts to reduce plastic pollution more visible to other governments and generating more learning opportunities.
  • Geographic expansion and best practices: exploring whether well-established types of measures could be applied in places where they do not exist today and whether best practices can be derived from existing experiences in applying them.
  • Thematic scope expansion: exploring whether new areas of policy intervention can be identified to deliver meaningful results in tackling plastic pollution, in particular by targeting parts of the plastics economy that are currently not (or rarely) targeted, but deserve to be.

Report details

Sustainable Development Goals
Focus area
IISD, 2023