Plastic pollution on the rise, UNDP and GEF study reveals

March 6, 2023
Foto: Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels

We are importing more and more plastics and the plastic waste generated is increasing exponentially. 90% of that waste is landfilled in the mix with household waste. To tackle the harmful consequences of plastic pollution, we need to increase producer responsibility and apply the principles of the circular economy. These are the main findings of the first national study on plastic waste. The research was developed by the Public Association "Verde e Moldova", in partnership with the Training and Consultancy Centre "E-Circular", with the financial support of the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by UNDP.

Over the last ten years, the amount of plastic used in the Republic of Moldova has grown steadily by about four percent per year. Last year alone, the declared value of plastic items imported and exported from Moldova by legal entities was around seven billion lei. Thus, 97.2 thousand tons of plastics were imported into Moldova and 16 thousand tons were exported.

The study finds that among the plastic waste that most often ends up in landfills are: cigarette filters made from cellulose acetate, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, food packaging, plastic food bags, straws, and disposable tableware.

In the last three years, there has been an increase in the quantity of biodegradable bags imported into the Republic of Moldova due to new legislative changes in force. However, according to the authors, the switch to biodegradable packaging does not come with environmental benefits unless appropriate collection and recycling measures are taken. Often, "biodegradable" plastic items (including disposable plastic bags and containers) only break down completely if exposed to prolonged high temperatures of over 50°C.

Nationally, the most used plastic products are PET packaging and bottles, about 30 percent, followed by high-density polyethylene packaging, about 10 percent.

There are 388 companies in Moldova that manufacture plastic products, according to the study. The largest share is accounted for by companies manufacturing plastic construction products. In 2021, Moldovan companies produced 18 thousand tons of plastics, of which 11 thousand tons were sold on the domestic market and another seven thousand tons were exported.

In the last five years, the state budget has been paid 1.15 billion lei in environmental pollution charges for plastics, i.e., 230 million lei annually. According to the national legislation in force, from 2023, the implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mechanism started, which means that all packaging producers bear financial and organizational responsibility for the management of the waste stage in the life cycle of a product.

In the Republic of Moldova there are 28 licensed operators whose activities include plastic waste management. The amount of plastic waste collected annually by the operators analyzed ranges from 8 tons to 2400 tons.

The study recommends the development of a national action plan to reduce plastic waste pollution and implement the principles of the circular economy. The document should be drawn up on the basis of the most important provisions of European legislation and the actions set out should aim to reduce the amount of plastic waste and improve the life-cycle management of plastics. The authors also suggest:

  • Reducing and phase out single-use plastic products;
  • Promoting the concept of reduction and reuse;
  • Implementation of the EPR mechanism and deposit system for plastic packaging;
  • Improving knowledge and practices for plastics and plastic waste management.