An introduction to plastic credits

August 16, 2022


Modern society uses a lot of plastic - roughly 350 million metric tons per year. Unfortunately, only a fraction of that is recycled, and much of it finds its way into our oceans and other natural ecosystems, wreaking havoc on wildlife, habitats, and our planet’s overall health. Microplastics are even consumed by fish and work their way up the entire global food chain.

To address our global plastic footprint with the robust action it requires, organizations in every sector will need to work to make their plastic use more sustainable, which may include overhauling their supply chains, packaging, and even product design.

This blog explains how Plastic Credits represent opportunities for organizations to directly fund plastic waste removal initiatives and finance plastic recycling infrastructure projects. Further, we’ll explore how they function as an effective, market-based complement to plastic reduction strategies and can fit into a comprehensive corporate plastic stewardship program.

What are Plastic Credits?

Plastic Credits are a market-based solution that incentivizes the elimination of plastic waste from the environment.

As with Carbon Credits, companies can purchase a number of Plastic Credits to compensate for a specific amount of plastic introduced into the environment. Credits are categorized into three types:

Waste Collection Credits, generated by projects that enable plastic to be collected from the environment.

Waste Recycling Credits, generated by projects that enable plastic to be recycled.

Attributes of Recycled Content certificates, generated as a claim associated with demonstrating support for investments in recycling technology

No matter their specific projects, corporations can choose to compensate more than their own plastic waste by investing in and supporting projects that remove additional plastic waste from the environment.

How are Plastic Credits measured and regulated?

There are two standards for measuring and regulating plastic credits: the Verra Standard and the Recycled Material Standard (RMS).

Both standards share the goal of reducing plastic waste in the environment. They differ, however, in the types of projects they promote and (for the most part) the countries where these projects take place.

The Verra Plastic Waste Reduction Program gives companies the opportunity to compensate for their plastic waste. Individual projects range from converting plastic waste into composite timbers used in construction projects to removing plastic waste from beaches and river systems.

When a company purchases certified credits under the Verra Standard, they know that each credit represents an additional metric ton of plastic recycled or removed from the environment, which otherwise would not have occurred without their support for the project. For RMS, brands can demonstrate their support for recycling projects or investing in recycling technology. In both cases, credits are only issued after projects meet robust additional criteria.

Though the Verra standard is global, the RMS standard is focused on the recycling industry within North America for now, with plans to expand.

Projects from both programs are independently certified by third-party auditors that determine the amount of waste reduced and / or recycled as a result of each project. This ensures the results are transparently reported, accurate, and sustainable.

As ACT doesn’t transact with credits that haven’t been verified, the auditing process is especially important.

How do Plastic Credits fit into the bigger picture?

Organizations looking to prioritize their plastic reduction activities can do so in three steps:

1. Redesign procedures for reduction, reuse, and recycling.

2. Increase recycled content in their products.

3. Increase collection and recycling programs.

Plastic Credits are one part of the dynamic global effort necessary to combat climate change – RMS and the Verra Standard offer supplementary, measurable opportunities to help address the plastics corporations can’t immediately eradicate.

Corporations seeking plastic credits can measure their impact through the Plastic Crediting Pathway. And companies on the path to exchanging plastic credits measure their impact by how much plastic they recycle and / or remove.

Plastic leadership claims

There are several official plastic stewardship claims organizations can work towards.

Net Zero Plastic Leakage: an equivalent to the total weight of plastic put into the market must be removed from the environment permanently. This commitment is achieved through collection activities within and beyond an organization’s value chain. Waste Collection Credits can then be used to compensate for any residual plastic leakage.

Net 100% Recycled at End-of-Life: an organization must recycle an equivalent amount of plastic that is put into the market. This is achieved through collection and recycling activities within and beyond the value chain.

However, before achieving this claim, organizations should first achieve the claim of Net Zero Plastic Leakage. Then, retire Waste Recycling Credits equivalent to the number of Waste Collection Credits used to achieve Net Zero Plastic Leakage, ensuring the right amount of plastic is recycled.

Lastly, organizations should compensate for plastic that is collected but not recycled by retiring the equivalent amount of Waste Recycling Credits.

When an organization commits to achieving Net Plastic Circularity, they act on the intention to use 100% recycled plastic content and to ensure that this content is recycled. This means that the product has circular outflow and circular inflow.

Plastic Credits play an important role in addressing plastic waste

Less than ten percent of plastic waste generated throughout the world is recycled. And while governments are increasingly offering guidelines to help eliminate single use plastics, those efforts are not enough. A market-based solution is necessary.

As part of a comprehensive set of solutions, Plastic Credits offer corporations a unique incentive to meet their sustainability goals. For more information on how to incorporate Plastic Credits into your organization’s sustainability efforts, get in touch.

This blog was written with information sourced from the Verra Plastic Program and Methodology and the Recycled Materials Standard.