Policy instruments are developed by government as a way to implement their policies and influence the behavior of citizens and businesses. Policy instruments are often categorized into four segments, or a mix of them: 1. Regulatory Instruments, 2. Financial Instruments, 3. Voluntary Instruments, and 4. Education Instruments.
A blended policy approach that leverages policy instruments across the spectrum, and that which combine both upstream and downstream measures, can create incentives that reduce production and consumption of plastics, while also increasing collection and recycling capacities.
To further support policymakers at the local level, Plastic Smart Cities has included below a brief overview of various policy instruments that have been successfully implemented in cities around the world. This non-exhaustive list will continue to be expanded upon, with policy instruments published as Best Practices.
1. Regulatory Instruments
Regulatory instruments establish binding rules that can be enforced through legal sanctions in instances of noncompliance. They are typically used to address problems that pose significant risks to the economy, the environment or society.
Regulatory instruments typically introduce market restrictions or ‘bans’ on specified plastic items. Bans have proven effective in preventing single-use plastics from entering local markets, but require enforcement capabilities to ensure their success. Bans on single-use plastics can be a step towards more comprehensive policies aimed at reducing the generation of plastic waste and at replacing single-use plastics with more sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternatives.
Relevant Regulatory instruments include:
Bans - Bans on manufacturing, distribution and import of specified plastics, most commonly associated with single-use plastics.
Public Procurement - Public procurement policies give preference to environmentally preferable products and services for government operations and contracts. Procurement standards can incorporate bans on single-use plastic items, as well as targets and incentives for reusables, enabling procurement teams to incorporate reusable products at suitable venues.
Sanitary landfills - Policy instrument to provide legal requirements and funding for construction, operation and maintenance of sanitary landfills, as well as the conversion of existing open and uncontrolled dump sites.
Source Segregation - Rules to govern quality of garbage collection at the household or institutional level, which mandates or incentivizes waste stream separation at the source of generation.
Municipal Collection - Requirements to set up dedicated collection points or recovery facilities by municipalities.
2. Financial Instruments
Financial instruments (often referred to as Economic instruments or Market-based instruments) are an effective alternative to Regulatory instruments as they give individuals and businesses a choice, but strongly incentivizes the environmentally preferable choice by rewarding or financially discouraging certain behavior.
Relevant Financial instruments include:
Advanced Disposal Fees - Non-refundable fees levied on individual products at the point of purchase. The fee is built into the price of the product based on the estimated costs of collection and processing.
Taxes and Levies - Taxes and/or levies imposed on manufacturers, retailers or consumers for use of single-use plastic items support the move to reuse systems by creating a level playing field, in which single-use plastic externalities are accounted for, and making reuse the economically preferable option. Put simply, taxes on SUP items, and fiscal incentives on their reusable alternatives, make a significant difference to vendors and customers. Combined, they can drive innovation and behavior changes towards reusables.
Blended Financing Instruments - Use of public, private or philanthropic capital to increase investment in projects aimed at improving waste management capacities in developing countries.
Deposit Refund Scheme - Deposit refund schemes are systems where consumers buying a product pay a small amount of money which will be reimbursed when they bring the container to a collection point after use. The container can then be recycled and transformed into secondary raw materials This system is an application of the polluter-pays principle, where people are economically incentivized to recycle rather than waste. It is mostly implemented to collect and recycle beverage containers made of plastic, metal and glass as they can be easily transformed into secondary raw materials.
Landfill taxes - Taxes charged to private landfill operators to help drive waste away from landfill towards preferable disposal alternatives, such as composting, recycling, and reuse.
Municipal Bonds - Debt instruments issued by the local government to finance capital expenditure for waste management facilities and services, which can be exempt from national and local taxes.
Extended Product Responsibility (EPR) - Market restrictions such as EPR has been widely successful in shifting the financial burden of waste management from municipalities to producers, therefore creating a more resourceful and effective scheme that increases collection and recycling rates, while also reducing plastic leakage. EPR also provides incentive for manufacturers to design resource efficient and low impact products. EPR is often established at the national level.
Packaging Material Fees - Producers pay fees depending on the amount of packaging material put on the market or their plastic recycling/recovery targets. Pooled fees are used to fund packaging waste management activities through a producer responsibility organization (PRO). This is closely related to EPR, but is limited to packaging materials, and are often coordinated/implemented at the national level.
Pay as you Throw - A policy instrument, typically used at the local level, whereby households are charged a fee for waste collection. These could be a flat monthly fee, an amount based on the frequency of waste collection, or an amount based on waste volumes.
Plastic Credit System - Producers meet their obligations by purchasing recycling certificates issued by accredited re-processors or recyclers based on the amount of plastic waste recycled.
3. Voluntary Instruments
Voluntary instruments allow for business and industry to develop codes of conduct and operating guidelines on their own accord, for which they are responsible for enforcing. Voluntary instruments can also be facilitated by government entities through voluntary agreements and Public-Private Partnerships.
Voluntary instruments can often deliver results in a more timely and cost-effective manner than can Regulatory instruments. They also allow greater flexibility for stakeholders to adapt to technological change and market sensitivities. However, the success of Voluntary instruments is fully reliant on aligned interests between industry and society as a whole; when interests are not aligned, industry is not compelled to voluntarily take the necessary actions without external influence, either by government action or by NGOs pressures.
Relevant Voluntary Instruments include:
Public-Private Partnerships - Public -private sector partnerships outline initiatives and voluntary goals to encourage businesses to make firm commitments on plastic towards transformative business models.
Voluntary Agreements - Voluntary reduction strategies allow industry, businesses and citizens time to change their production and consumption patterns, providing an opportunity for sustainable alternatives to reach the market. The promotion and adoption of reusable bags is one such example of a voluntary reduction strategy where the choice lies with the consumer.
Municipal Unions - Collective unions created by neighboring municipalities to collectively work on waste management activities, including collection and processing facilities, as well as communal interventions in shared waterways.
4. Education Instruments
Education instruments create public awareness on plastic problems and solutions in an effort to influence behavior through voluntary action. Education instruments are typically developed as public awareness campaigns that leverage various media channels, however instruments can also include information exchanges via product certifications, labels or rankings.
Relevant Education Instruments include:
Public Awareness - Broad public awareness can help to change the way that plastic is viewed, used and managed as waste. Education and engagement can be part of a city’s strategic action plan, and can include consumer awareness campaigns, business awareness campaigns, documentary films, school initiatives and cleanup activities, among others. The aim is to increase public understanding and shape community perceptions on the dangers of plastic pollution and available solutions, thereby empowering more people and organizations to take action. Community actions can include changes in individual attitudes and purchasing habits, increased sorting and recycling behavior, responsible business processes and practices, among others.
Product Certifications – Third-party certifications, labels or rankings on products that are plastic-free, contain low volumes of plastics, or are composed of secondary plastics can create awareness and drive market differentiation.
 Howlett, 1991; Bemelmans-Videc & Rist, 1998