This article forms the first in our five-part series to analyze The Circulate Initiative’s recent report, ‘A Sea of Plastics Claims and Credits: Steering Stakeholders Towards Impact’ and its 11 proposed best practices for the plastic credit market. Our series aims to present a pragmatic and evidence-backed analysis and help advance this burgeoning environmental finance ecosystem towards greater accountability and global impact.
“This is a systemic level change rather than a simple faucet with a nice story,” said Daniel Paffenholz during our first visit to Taka Taka, his state-of-the-art waste management facility on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Addressing the future of waste management, Daniel remarked that “plastic credits can push things that aren’t viable to be more viable.” Through verified impact projects like Taka Taka, we catalyze the potential of plastic credits to accelerate innovative solutions powering the transition to a world with less mismanaged plastic waste.
Globally, plastic waste management is in dire need of reform. Where there are powerful innovations, there isn’t enough finance to fuel them. Where there are crippling waste management problems, there isn’t infrastructure in place to address them. Where there are supply chains heavily reliant on plastic, there aren’t enough circular economy models and solutions scaled up to transform them from the inside out.
The plastic waste epidemic will continue to devastate our environment until we begin to enable systemic solutions, and the reality is simple – there is no single or simple solution to end the plastic waste crisis. To make it worse, there is a glaring $30 billion a year financing gap standing in our way. Meanwhile, developing countries face the brunt of the plastic waste crisis, where basic infrastructure cannot cope with the massive volumes of waste generated, dumped, flared, and flushed into our oceans.
We saw the potential for plastic credits early on when rePurpose Global began. The only difference then was that there wasn’t nearly enough mainstream dialogue on the emerging plastic credit market. Today, it is encouraging to see that this promising financial instrument is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Debating the Plastic Credit Paradigm: TCI’s Report
In January 2021, The Circulate Initiative (TCI) published a report highlighting 11 proposed best practices to improve the efficacy of impact creation within the plastic credit market. This forum is well-timed as the plastic credit industry debates how to maximize impact and prevent unintended consequences.
To further the discussion and analysis of these 11 practices, we crafted a series of articles to examine and express our perspective. Over the next month, we’ll be releasing four articles that will explore each of these practices. The series dives deep into our extensive on-the-ground experience of helping shape a largely unexplored market. Each article breaks down the 11 practices and gives our thoughts and recommendation of how the plastic credit market can accelerate its impact potential globally.
We believe that TCI’s best practices warrant consideration, as they cover critical topics such as harmonization of definitions, collaboration with numerous stakeholders, the paramount importance of demonstrable additionality, and vital third-party verification. It’s exciting to see that rePurpose Global’s core principles align with TCI’s rationale. We also believe that the best practices can benefit from taking into account key learnings from on-ground realities.
The primary goal of each article in the series will be to analyze TCI’s best practices through our perspective and provide recommendations for the plastic credit market as a whole. Our thoughts on these best practices fall within four broad categories of Program Development, Contribution to Impact, Program Impact, and Program Adoption:
- Building the Ideal Plastic Credit Program: Driving Harmony and Compliance
- Building the Ideal Plastic Credit Program: Maximizing Co-Benefits and Additionality
- Building the Ideal Plastic Credit Program: Governing Verifiable Impact Creation
- Building the Ideal Plastic Credit Program: Achieving Global Scale and Adoption
The following sections of the article are meant to introduce our thoughts on these best practices and serves as a preview of the rest of the series.
Program Development: Alignment Within the Sector
Our first article dives into three of TCI’s best practices: harmonization, the multi-stakeholder process, and ISEAL Compliance, outlining the basis for Program Development. The growing plastic credit market sees a spur in programs and resulting claims surrounding plastic credits, and these claims must now be aligned and defined by the sector.
Harmonization brings the markets together to develop a common language and practices to increase efficiency and uniformity of impact creation. Our platform plays an instrumental role by developing foundational principles and definitions of terms now widely accepted by many stakeholders.
As the market continues to develop, there are various efforts to standardize the plastic credit market, which have recently been released or are in development. The world’s first Plastic Waste Reduction Standard developed by Verra is a step in this direction. Fortunately, our organization was able to help shape the development of the standard and engage as a lead developer on Verra’s Collection Methodology. Moreover, we strive to help establish a resilient market environment so the plastic credit market grows and develops in the most socially and environmentally responsible manner.
Our Plastic Neutral Standards and Plastic Credit Protocol are currently under development, to be released in Q2, 2021. These two comprehensive guidelines define the journey towards the Plastic Neutral Certification and create an adoptable framework for the issuance, delivery, and retirement of our plastic credits. Ultimately, these guidelines will help harmonize our work with industry-wide practices.
The multi-stakeholder process is also an essential aspect of program development because it values stakeholders at every stage in the circular economy supply chain. We are adopting this principle in the development of our Plastic Neutral Standards and Plastic Credit Protocol.
We are constantly making strides to align our work with established frameworks. ISEAL’s Credibility Principles and Codes of Good Practice steer sustainability initiatives in the right direction through measurement, compliance, and accreditation. We have adapted various ISEAL practices to ensure the impact we create remains demonstrably credible in its objectives and results. To further this endeavor, we recommend the co-creation of a playbook for how the plastic credit market should adapt and adopt ISEAL principles in collaboration with leading industry stakeholders.
Ultimately, as experienced practitioners in the plastic credit market, we would like to call for much closer engagement between plastic credit project developers like rePurpose Global and ecosystem enablers such as The Circulate Initiative. For a comprehensive understanding of the best practices, the market needs to pool all the current perspectives. In order to enable further harmonization towards accountability and transparency, we first need to collectively address our sector’s lack of diversity and deliberately include perspectives from the frontline and across varied cultural identities and geographies.
Contribution to Impact: Maximizing Program Benefits
The second article in our series covers TCI’s approach to Co-Benefits and Additionality. Both principles complement an effective impact creation process. TCI recommends that each plastic credit program create a verifiable impact that surpasses local waste management systems’ existing efforts. The need for co-benefits and additionality in the plastic credit market is core to rePurpose Global’s original founding mission to reduce waste, revive lives, and restore nature’s balance. As a plastic credit platform with impact projects running across three continents, we collaborate closely with the waste sector to prioritize co-benefits focusing on — oceans, livelihoods, infrastructure, or climate, at each impact project.
Co-benefits are foundational to our impact process. To ensure co-benefits for our oceans, we conduct programs along coastlines to curb ocean-bound plastic waste. For each of our impact projects, we ensure safe working conditions and dignified labor. Additionally, to prevent adverse climate risks, we make sure our recovered plastic waste reaches the best possible end destinations from a lifecycle perspective.
Another TCI best practice that distinguishes rePurpose Global’s impact is additionality. It is a critical concept measuring whether an activity or intervention funded by plastic credits verifiably exceeds existing efforts already occurring in the baseline scenario. In other words, our plastic credit projects guarantee to always avoid, remove, or recycle plastic waste that would have otherwise ended up in nature. At rePurpose Global, we don’t see additionality as just another concept but as a necessary measure that must be embedded in every idea, stage, and result of a program’s offering.
We stand by TCI’s call for co-benefits and additionality to be integral best practices for the plastic credit market and corporate certification programs. To aid this call, we propose the collaborative development of an Additionality Assessment Tool that will help determine additionality more accurately and enhance the verification and traceability of plastic credit projects worldwide.
We want to go a step further by asserting the need for socioeconomic impact to be a best practice of its own rather than a co-benefit. It’s important to recognize the often harsh realities of informal waste sectors in the Global South and their inalienable human rights. As the plastic credit market grows, socioeconomic impact must be seen as an essential practice within plastic recovery.
Program Impact: Driving Accountability
As new programs emerge in the plastic credit market, a distinguishing factor will be the verifiability of the impact they create. To aid this purpose, TCI recommends three best practices: Third-party Verification, Governance, and Continuous Improvement. All three practices collectively aim to create a transparent process for decision-making and quantifying the impact created.
Third-party verification and governance are important benchmarks for programs to achieve. The practices inspire external checks and balances to maintain the quality of impact. In the third article of our series, we examine how our work strives to incorporate third-party verification into every aspect of our impact creation process. As we see it, all plastic credit project developers must collaborate with external bodies to verify their impact.
In principle, we agree that TCI’s best practices should be weaved into a plastic credit program’s activities to drive transparency. We also believe that a comprehensive governance system must be set up by the entire plastic credit market to enhance and monitor these practices. Moreover, we commit to onboard context-appropriate technologies to trace and track our impact and call upon other program developers to do the same.
Continuous improvement is a fundamental pillar of any program’s success. So far, the development of our approaches in the nascent stages of the plastic credit market is an ongoing journey of continuous learning and improvement. We constantly refine processes to bolster and increase the impact created through our projects.
A big part of our work is adapting to change and pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve. We welcome feedback and look to incorporate any suggestions we receive from members of the global sustainability ecosystem. In the pursuit of improvement, we will be going a step further to open a public portal to review our processes and respond to queries and submissions. As more project developers adopt a similar portal incorporating public views and opinions, it will benefit the market by shaping responsive and ethical impact programs.
Program Adoption: Scaling the Plastic Credit Model
In the final segment of our series, we address TCI’s best practices on scaling the adoption of plastic credit programs. For any plastic credit model to be truly impactful, it must have a global reach and scale. In this regard, TCI outlines three practices to accelerate adoption: Global Relevance, Commercial Adoption, and Policy Influence.
Achieving multi-regional scale is a long and carefully planned process. To achieve it, we developed a highly replicable model to quickly scale our impact creation, brand partnerships, and ecosystem memberships. Our diverse coalition comprises 11+ impact projects spanning South Asia, Latin America, Africa, and South-East Asia.
TCI recommends commercial adoption as a key marker of what makes a program successful. rePurpose Global has welcomed a strong coalition of 100+ corporate partners, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs all dedicated to creating impact through our platform. Our partnering brands range across industries such as food, beauty, finance, automobile, technology, and professional services. We count global companies such as Credit Suisse, Grove Collaborative, Marqeta, The Hut Group, State Street, Aunt Fannie’s, and Dalberg Group in our coalition. While we support efforts to enable global brands to engage with plastic credits and the Plastic Neutral certification, we believe the sector should also ensure that sustainability innovations focus on improving democratization and accessibility to all businesses, no matter their size.
Policy influence is a long-term vision for any credible impact-driven program. In this regard, plastic credits hold great potential to influence policy. We believe plastic credit financing can drive progressive environmental regulation through a hybrid approach of mandatory EPR and voluntary plastic credit schemes. In our work, we engage closely with local governments, policymakers and advocacy-based institutions to influence strategies, and policies around plastic waste management. Going forward, we would like to invite the plastic credit market’s major players to coalesce and draft a playbook for effective policy engagement, to expand the scalability and reach of environmental finance across every component of the circular economy.
As a frontrunner in the plastic credit market, we at rePurpose Global recognize our responsibility to amplify the imperfect discourse about this pioneering financing instrument in the status quo and turn well-intentioned theories into concrete action. We see great potential for TCI’s best practices to be incorporated into the sector’s outlook, provided they remain observant and inclusive of the realities on the ground.
Going forward, we commit to furthering the dialogue of how to optimize our current processes. Recognizing these debates is essential to our progress as an environmental finance market, we extend a hand for collaboration to every single market stakeholder to devise new pathways towards realizing the immense potential of plastic credits. Together, we can certainly combat the plastic waste crisis, before it’s too late.
Watch our blog for the first article in this series, Building the Ideal Plastic Credit Program: Driving Harmony and Compliance.