Working Regionally to Combat Plastic Pollution


From transport to health, food to construction and textiles, plastics are among the most abundant materials in our economy. Globally, the plastic industry is valued at USD 600 billion and provides employment to millions of people worldwide. But plastic pollution has become a crisis of monumental proportions, with 8 million tons ending up in oceans annually. Around the world, different regions face unique challenges ranging from community awareness to waste and recycling capacity, to weak stakeholder engagement.

Through this South-South knowledge exchange, counterpart agencies mentioned above, working on plastic waste solutions in East Asia and Pacific (EAP), South Asia (SAR) and Aub-Saharan Africa (AFR) regions, with supporting World Bank (WB) team members, came together, in the form of a hybrid workshop, for a knowledge exchange on ongoing and upcoming regional plastic waste management projects. During the first part of the exchange, each region provided an overview of their initiative—highlighting regional challenges and project goals for addressing plastic waste issues. In the second part of the exchange, counterpart and supporting agencies — along with WB teams—participated in a moderated discussion covering pre-project analytics; project design (i.e., similarities and differences); institutional arrangements (i.e., structure and success); major project challenges and mitigation strategies; and implementation.

As a result of the knowledge exchange, each project team left with a greater understanding of the unique challenges different regional teams face in their efforts to combat plastic pollution, and how a regional response, with WB support, has unique benefits to member countries. They also experienced increased knowledge of overlapping issues and solutions, and gleaned insight into the types of strategies regional teams are using to enhance their project outcomes and ensure continued stakeholder engagement.



Across different global regions, and despite varying socioeconomic contexts, the effort to curb plastic pollution faces many common barriers and challenges. In ASEAN member states, rapid urbanization and inadequate waste management infrastructure contribute to the problem. In countries covered by the WACA platform, urbanization, population increase, and economic growth have accelerated plastic use and waste and waste management systems cannot keep up with the demand. In SACEP countries, densely populated cities and poor waste management systems are to blame.

Due in part to the similarities in the root causes of plastic management challenges and barriers across participating regions, the knowledge exchange revealed that many of the project teams encountered similar issues while launching their WB-financed projects or achieving project outcomes. For the SEA-MaP project, a key challenge arose while setting up institutional arrangements for the regional project, as SEA-MaP was to be a first-of-its-kind project financed by the WB and implemented by ASEAN (a regional organization representing 10 member countries). One of the solutions was to establish a Regional Implementation Support Unit (RISU), housed within the development partner agency the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). In South Asia, the PLEASE initiative already had experience partnering with UNOPS to bolster the implementation capacity of SACEP.

In West Africa, the team is working to get a regional operation targeting plastic pollution off the ground, using the WACA program as a launching pad. There is a recognized need for a regional action to help West African countries reach scale for policy adoption, knowledge base, innovation, and finance. ECOWAS has requested the World Bank’s support to draft a Regional Action plan on Plastics Management and Circular Economy in collaboration with WAEMU. This technical assistance is on-going with PROBLUE funds. Given the early stages of this regional effort, the knowledge exchange was especially helpful to the team and its counterparts who were able to ask specific questions to the other project teams regarding their project design and implementation. In particular, from the SEA-MaP project team, as the SEA-MaP project is implementing the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States which was also prepared with support from WB and PROBLUE.




Throughout the engagement, participants benefitted from hearing about the key strengths and results that each of the regional projects have been able to achieve. There were many elements that resonated across regions and some solutions that sparked ideas for ways that ongoing projects might enhance their current work.

One such solution came from the PLEASE project. The PLEASE project is a pioneering initiative funded by the WB, started in 2020, to address the issue of plastic pollution in rivers and seas in South Asia. The project is implemented by SACEP, a regional organization that promotes environmental cooperation among South Asian countries. The project's implementation experience and outcomes are valuable for other WB teams and partners who are working on similar interventions: (i) the project has a broad scope and requires additional implementation support for the project implementing unit (PIU), as well as analytical work to inform project implementation and monitoring; (ii) furthermore, regional projects should prioritize the harmonization of regional policies and the establishment of a regional engagement mechanism, as these are essential for effective cross-border collaboration and coordination.

During the moderated discussion, the SEA-MaP team learned of the effective branding and communication efforts undertaken by the PLEASE implementors in South Asia. Their communication strategies included the dissemination of early products, such as a video, highlighting the PLEASE project objectives. SEA-MaP participants noted that this approach could be beneficial for their project as well.

As they look to create their regional program, WACA and its counterparts also learned a great deal from the EAP and SAR projects. Specifically, the team was interested in the governing tools that SEA-MaP and PLEASE developed, as well as the pilot projects they implemented. The WACA team hopes to continue to engage with these existing regional projects for ongoing insight and support as their own plans develop further.

Lessons Learned

In addition to the lessons highlighted above, participants also expressed that the knowledge exchange reminded them of the importance of strong existing institutional mechanisms for cooperation and collaboration. For example, the SEA-MaP team recognizes that this is already set up within ASEAN through the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Environment, the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment, and the ASEAN Working Groups, including the ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment. These mechanisms are essential to project teams’ abilities to address the current and future challenges related to plastic pollution. The ECOWAS participants expressed many lessons learned from the group discussion, including the importance of agreed plastic standards, monitoring and control, pilot projects, private sector support, stakeholder engagement, circular economy, and environmental integrity.


Beneficiaries / Participants

ASEAN Secretariat (SEA-MaP Counterpart):

Project Director, PMU

Senior Officer, Environment Division

Officer, Environment Division

Project Officers (2), PMU


Project Support Coordinator, RISU

Project Support Specialist, RISU


Intermediate Project Director

Senior Program Manager of UNOPS

ECOWAS (WACA Counterpart): 

Head Environment & Climate / ECOWAS Commission

WAEMU (WACA Counterpart)

Director of Environment and Water Resources / WAEMU Commission

IUCN (WACA Counterpart)

Program Officer/ International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Dakar

World Bank Contribution

Through the South-South Facility, the World Bank funded the knowledge exchange activities, coordinated and moderated the knowledge sharing events, and brought the three distant regional organizations together into one platform – bringing regional organizations into one single event is an effective way to carry out learning events, as regional institutions have the ability to steer and influence all countries in the regions they cover. The planning and implementation of the event were a collaborative effort between WB teams from the SEA-MaP, PLEASE and WACA projects.

Moving forward


  • Establishing strong branding and communications strategy.
  • Continue progressing various technical studies to address the actions in the ASEAN RAP.
  • It will be good to coordinate with other regional projects on both of the above topics to continue to share knowledge and lessons learned.


  • Continue successful implementation of the project, including wrapping up all activities by January 2025.
  • Strengthen the WB external and internal communication activities to highlight the successful solutions to plastic pollution.


  • The next step for ECOWAS is to develop the regional plan to combat plastic pollution in collaboration with WAEMU and with the World Bank support.
  • Moving forward, ECOWAS and WAEMU aim to support their member states in implementing the action plan.


Increased knowledge:

Through the exchange, each of the regional project teams expressed they had learned new information and approaches from the shared experiences of the other participants. Specifically, teams articulated an increased understanding of the different activities planned by the participating regions and greater insight into the specific challenges they faced (for example, in implementing a small grants program).

The SEA-MaP team also indicated they had a greater understanding within the team of the value of the ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combatting Marine Debris in ASEAN Member States (ASEAN RAP), and planned to further utilize this document to clearly define and detail activities that are covered under SEA-MaP.

Participants from ECOWAS felt they learned from other participants regarding the development of extended produced responsibility and its enforcement. They were also intrigued by the involvement of the private sector as well as success stories from pilot projects and stakeholder engagement efforts shared by the other projects, and are eager find ways to implement similar activities in their upcoming initiatives.

Enhanced skills:

Team members expressed that the session helped clarify what specific skills they want to focus on and enhance for the future of their programs. The SEA-MaP team, for example, after hearing about the strong branding and communications efforts of the other projects, wants to put a greater emphasis on these skills and plans to develop a full communications strategy for their project moving forward. Similarly, the WACA  team wants to continue to leverage the work that has been done in the other regions by incorporating some of the shared activities and experiences in their own action plan implementation to improve the knowledge of member state entities.

Enhanced coordination:

Each of the participants indicated that continued coordination and knowledge sharing between projects would be beneficial to their own work. This is especially true in relation to continued sharing of lessons learned, and specifically, technical topics (as they progress).

Many of the participants are thinking ahead to the upcoming Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC)-4 and -5 discussions on an International Legally-Binding Instrument (ILBI) to combat plastic pollution, which will occur in April and November 2024. The successful implementation of this instrument will require a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design, and disposal—and continued coordination at the regional level and across regional teams will be key to adaptation.


  • ASEAN Secretariat
  • SACEP Secretariat