Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Globally, women are disproportionately burdened and impacted by the harmful effects of plastic across the life cycle of products. These burdens vary across cultural, socioeconomic, and political contexts, and based on how women engage with plastic, but broadly include health and safety impacts, access to opportunities in the waste sector, and exposures to harmful plastic-associated chemicals. This initial assessment considers how women, people who are assigned female at birth and have been socialized as females, and/or female-identified people are considered in plastics policy scope and implementation.
Researchers identified 25 documents at the intersection of plastics policy and gender, indicating gender is rarely considered when crafting plastics policy. However, evidence of gender-differentiated impacts of plastics policy is emerging. Plastics bans, waste management policies, and economic development funds often ignore or do not consider women’s roles as heads of households or informal waste sector workers, both of which expose women to excesses of plastics and their negative effects.
Despite this, some policies that do consider gender were identified. Most are primarily focused on incorporating women in the waste management sector and alleviating the burden of low-income women from complying with plastic bag fees. None address the risks associated with chemical exposure across the plastics life cycle.
These policies, alongside expert interviews, suggest that the path toward tangible consideration of gender-differentiated impacts associated with plastic and plastics policies requires, at a minimum, ensuring the inclusion of women in policymaking, waste management industries, and research and development. The reviewed literature emphasizes that only when power structures are reexamined and corrected for will there be meaningful changes to the ways humanity designs plastics, manages waste, and informs the public about the products they consume.