Collective effort in a plastic world

September 21, 2022
Group photo

UNDP Plastics Circularity Systemic Design Workshop 2022 participants.

Photo: UNDP

The global plastics crisis is real in the Pacific. It poses serious threat to its environment, terrestrial biodiversity, ocean resources, and human health. Therefore, the transition to a circular economy has never been more urgent and essential for the attainment of many Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in relation to responsible consumption and production (SDG12).

The UNDP Accelerator Lab Pacific (Fiji) hosted a 3-day Plastics Circularity Systemic Design Workshop, in partnership with the Fijian Government through the Ministry of Waterways & Environment. The workshop brought together key actors in the plastics value chain in Fiji, to evaluate the plastics crisis in the country and in the region, to better understand each other’s roles in the plastics ecosystem, and co-design a portfolio of interventions that could shift the current linear system of ‘take-make-waste’ to a more circular economy for plastics.

We understand that complex problems such as the plastics crisis cannot be solved by any one group, sector, or industry alone. It requires a whole systems approach, with all actors in the system playing a vital role in shifting the current linear system to a more restorative and regenerative circular economy. One of the common themes that came up during our discussions with stakeholders was that key players in the system were ‘working in silos’ and did not take time to sit together to analyse the plastics crisis at hand, so we decided to do just that—bring everyone together.

The workshop consisted of representatives from the government, civil society organizations, activists, media, municipal councils, disability forum, the private sector, grassroots, academia, international multilateral organizations, Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific, and regional agencies, among others. So, what happens when you put stakeholders from across the entire plastics value chain in the same room? Turns out, you get some fresh innovative ideas, and long-lasting friendships!

Day one: Understanding the system

The workshop kicked off with the official launch of the plastics circularity knowledge product which captured the findings of an 8+months long ethnographic research study by the UNDP Accelerator Lab Pacific (Fiji) team on stakeholders along the plastics value chain in Fiji and in Vanuatu. Insights captured from the ethnography provided human centered analyses to the study, wherein the Accelerator Lab had converted the insights captured into personas to enhance the understanding of how the plastics ecosystem was behaving.

Publication

The Knowledge Product on Plastics Circularity and Waste Management: An Ethnographic Study.

Photo: UNDP

During the workshop participants were given a chance to dissect the personas, familiarize themselves with the actors in the plastics space, provide feedback on potential gaps, and develop a general appreciation for the diverse stakeholders that occupy the plastics space in the Pacific region. In doing so, participants also deep-dived into the plastics value chain, establishing a common understanding of the whole life cycle of plastics and with the use of systems thinking tools such as the iceberg model identified many of the root causes of the present plastics crisis.

Participants

Participants deep dive into root causes of the plastics crisis using the ‘iceberg model’ systems thinking tool.

Photo: UNDP

Day Two: Designing an ideal future

Participants put on their creative hats as they designed their ideal ‘future state’—a circular economy future that was free of plastic pollution and mismanagement. Not only did this require outside-the-box, innovative thinking, but it also allowed participants to discuss the obstacles and challenges that were keeping the current system from realizing its full potential as a circular economy. Identifying these pain points led to a collective understanding of key focus areas in designing a portfolio of interventions that could potentially address the plastics crisis effectively.

Group work

Participants get creative in designing an ideal future that is free of plastic pollution.

Photo: UNDP

Day Three: Co-designing a portfolio of interventions

The final day was all about taking the newfound shared understanding of all the elements, stakeholders, challenges, and opportunities that made up the current plastics system in Fiji, including an intentional portfolio of interventions that could help shift this system to a more circular economy for plastics, was curated. While designing a portfolio is no walk in the park, with some passionate debates on where attention and resources should be focused, the end outcome was a portfolio that was diverse, inclusive, and innovative— and equally ambitious and realistic.

Group work

Workshop participants collectively design a portfolio of interventions for a plastic’s circular economy.

Photo: UNDP

Exploring opportunities:

Through the collective efforts of workshop participants, we were able to capture key focus areas that would need immediate attention to reduce plastic pollution and shift the current system to a more circular economy for plastics. It was determined that interventions would need to be based on three essential core drivers:
•    Technology and innovation;
•    Behaviour change and skill building; and 
•    Policy and institutional structures

Based on the collectively identified core drivers, the UNDP Accelerator Lab (Fiji) team will be testing a combination of solutions that can create and support the conditions for a circular economy for plastics. Possible entry points include awareness and capacity building programs with youth and people living in marginalized conditions, support for improved waste segregation systems through innovative methodologies and technology, support for improved data collection and sharing, and exploring feasibility and gauging business sector appetite for policies such as extended producer responsibility in the local context.

While the learning process is still in early stages, we are strongly optimistic that a system approach, involving communities, government, and private sector, has the potential to catalyze a transformational shift towards a circular economy that is crucial for the security, health, and protection of our planet and people. 

Acknowledgements:
Emily Moli, Koini Koroitamana, Setaita Tavanabola, Angela Baniuri, Koini Koroitamana of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji and Zainab Kakal of the Regional Innovation Centre, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. Special acknowledgement to all workshop participants for sharing their invaluable time, expertise, and insights.