How Verra Plans to Tackle Plastic Pollution: Plastic Waste Reduction Program Review

By Jazmin Murphy | Updated on August 27, 2021

Plastic is in so many of the products you use every day. From the tube of toothpaste you use to brush your teeth in the mornings, to the water bottle you sip from at the gym. Because it’s so widespread, plastic has made its way into nearly all the earth’s habitats, endangering wildlife and degrading ecosystems.

Humans need to act fast to reduce the consequences of plastic pollution. So, Verra’s taken up the torch and implemented a brand-new plastic waste initiative, similar to many carbon credit systems.

But… Will the Verra plastic waste reduction program be enough to save the planet?

A view of a mountain top in the middle of trees at the Sequoia National Park, with 8 Billion Trees Logo.

The Urgent Need for Plastic Waste Reduction

Global manufacturers have produced more plastic in the last ten years than in the entire last century. In 2018, they produced nearly 360 million tons of plastic worldwide.1 At least eight million of these tons end up in the ocean each year.2

Plastic’s devastating environmental impacts are immediately clear. Yet, they’re far more complex than you might realize initially. Plus, as Verra points out, recycling efforts are pitifully inefficient, with only a small fraction of plastic being recycled each year.3

The situation is dire. So, Verra recognized the need for “new incentives” to inspire action against this mounting environmental threat.3

Consider that a staggering 99 percent of all plastic comes from fossil fuel operations, including oil and gas extraction and fracking. Fracking, in particular, is severely harmful to various ecosystems, especially water bodies. For instance, many fear that some streams and rivers may be “sucked dry” to make way for fracking or “hydraulic fracturing,” potentially devastating aquatic wildlife populations.4,5

Plastic manufacturing also releases carcinogenic substances into the atmosphere and microplastic particles that can contaminate agricultural soils and water supplies.4

Apart from human health and general ecosystem effects, plastic harms wildlife directly. Animals often mistake plastic for food, leading them to starve as they fill their bellies with grocery bags and other trash. This exact problem has killed about 34 percent of dead leatherback sea turtles surveyed in a past study.6

With all this said, it’s clear that the world needs urgent action to mitigate the consequences of plastic pollution before it’s too late. The Verra Plastic Waste Reduction Program, or “Plastic Program,” is intended for just that.

How Verra’s Plastic Program Works

At its core, Verra’s plastic waste reduction program is designed to ensure “consistent accounting and crediting of a variety of plastic collection and recycling activities.”3 The organization’s “plastic crediting mechanism” shares some similarities with carbon offset program models.

For instance, the program entails independent project auditing to verify the amount of plastic waste a company or individual has reduced. The audits can also show how much they’ve increased their recycling activities.

Once the auditor verifies the data, you’ll earn credits based on the amount of plastic you’ve either collected or recycled “above baseline rates.”

This is the equivalent of ensuring “additionality” from projects generating credits for the voluntary carbon marketplace, or VCM. The baseline rate represents the amount of plastic that would’ve been removed from the environment or recycled, regardless of whether you joined the Plastic Program or not.

Such a system ensures that no one is earning credits just for signing up for the program. You’ll need to prove that you make a demonstrable change in mitigating plastic pollution to earn those credits.

This objective, multilayered verification system is essential in maintaining accountability. In 2018, the OECD reported that plastic recycling rates in the United States had barely reached 10 percent, while Australia hardly surpassed 10 percent, Japan exceeded 20 percent, and the European Union outperformed them all at 30 percent.7

In most places, the vast majority of plastic is not getting recycled. Accountability systems must be in place as soon as possible, especially considering that the fossil fuel industry aims to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next ten years.6

A top view of tree saplings in a nursery in Brazil, with 8 Billion Trees watermark.

Verra’s Standards for Plastic Program Projects

No matter which organization you’re collaborating with, you must make sure that their available projects are high-quality, independently verified, and above all, offer additionality. Rest assured that Verra’s selected projects meet all three qualifications, as they subject each one to a “rigorous assessment process” for certification.3

The key criteria Verra uses to size up each project are as follows:3

  • Plastic Standard: Verra considers the rules and requirements to be the “backbone of the program,” as they define the fundamental standards and processes required for certification. All projects must adhere to the Plastic Standard to ensure the generated credits are “real, additional, independently verified and transparently registered.”8
  • Independent Auditing: Every project included in the Plastic Program is subject to desk and field audits by Verra staff and independent third parties. This helps ensure that standards are met consistently.
  • Accounting Methodologies: There’s no one-size-fits-all when fighting plastic pollution. There are so many different materials and hazards that projects need various methodologies to calculate their effectiveness. Verra requires that each project uses a “technically sound” method to quantify the recycled or collected plastic waste, ensuring material-specific accuracy.
  • Verra Registry: All registered projects’ data will be stored in the Registry. Here, Verra staff will track all Plastic Credits from generation to retirement or cancellation. Projects can only be registered if they meet all the mandatory criteria.

So far, these standards have led to 24 transformative projects across 11 countries joining the Plastic Program. These span activities from informal plastic waste collection to expert-informed infrastructure development for optimizing plastic collection and sorting.9 Time will tell just how much plastic the innovative system will remove from Earth’s habitats.

What Can You Do to Fight Plastic Pollution?

The Plastic Program isn’t exclusive to big corporations. Individuals interested in going green can also get in on the action with Waste Collection Credits and Waste Recycling Credits.

By increasing the amount of plastic you either collect or sort for recycling, you can sell credits at about $200-800 per tonne (about the equivalent of one ton) to participating businesses.

Plus, Verra’s Plastic Standard offers safeguards to keep working conditions safe for waste pickers and collectors. This is a win-win situation for all involved: You or your community earns income from doing eco-friendly work, and the company buying the credits from you gets to label their credits as socially beneficial (that is, if the project results in benefits like increased wages, increased access to education, etc.).

Take the Ocean Cleanup Group (OCG), for example. OCG is the only search engine that directly benefits marine ecosystems through ocean cleanup operations in Southeast Asia.

The company has applied this same system now employed by Verra’s Plastic Program. With every web search, OCG funds individuals or communities that rid their local environments of harmful waste to minimize the business’s impacts and clean the planet. So far, over 450,000 lbs of plastic have been removed from the ocean.

A view of the sea with a beach with trees in Galapagos Islands, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.

Additionally, OCG manages a platform for trading the new eco-friendly crypto-token, “PlanetB,” the platform’s namesake. Two percent of each transaction goes to the clean fund, allowing OCG to mobilize cleanup crews all over the world.

Verra’s Plastic Program is a great leap forward for minimizing the devastating consequences of plastic pollution on the world’s oceans and other water bodies. Whether you own a business or want to get involved independently, Verra and OCG present excellent, easily accessible opportunities for offsetting or reducing your plastic use.

Plastic waste generation has reached historical highs in recent years. Its widespread use has led to pollution worldwide, devastating wildlife populations, and threatening human health. Fortunately, organizations like Verra have stepped up to the plate with innovative programs to remove humans’ plastic waste.

Whether you aspire to own a plastic-free business or want to sell credits to help others reduce their plastic waste, you’ll find a place in the Verra plastic waste reduction program. You can also take action in your personal life by using the OCG search engine or trading $PlanetB.

Whichever method is best for you, the time for climate action is now. Calculate your carbon footprint now to start reducing your emissions and plastic waste today.


References

1Knoblauch, J. A. (2020, April 9). Current testing efforts should be thrown out. The new goal? Tests that mimic real human exposure. Environmental Health News. https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191/current-testing-efforts-should-be-thrown-out-the-new-goal-tests-that-mimic-real-human-exposure

2International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (n.d.). Marine plastics. https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/marine-plastics

3Verra. (n.d.). Plastic waste reduction standard. https://verra.org/project/plastic-program/

4Center for International Environmental Law. (n.d.). Plastic and human health: A lifecycle approach to plastic pollution. https://www.ciel.org/project-update/plastic-and-human-health-a-lifecycle-approach-to-plastic-pollution/

5Saiers, J. (n.d.). Science as a foundation for policy: The case of fracking. Yale School of the Environment. https://environment.yale.edu/news/article/science-as-a-foundation-for-policy-the-case-of-fracking/

6Center for Biological Diversity. (n.d.). 10 facts about single-use plastic bags. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/sustainability/plastic_bag_facts.html

7Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2018). Background report: Improving plastics management trends, policy responses, and the role of international co-operation and trade (12). https://www.oecd.org/environment/waste/policy-highlights-improving-plastics-management.pdf

8Verra. (n.d.). Plastic waste reduction standard: Rules & requirements. https://verra.org/project/plastic-program/rules-requirements/

9Verra. (n.d.). Plastic waste reduction program: Project and credit summary. https://registry.verra.org/app/search/PWRP