The acceleration of small wins to contribute to the problem of plastic pollution. A case study of Dutch initiatives contributing to plastic free waterways.
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In recent years, the accumulation of plastic pollution has been observed. The wickedness that is involved in this societal problem requires a suitable governance strategy. One literature stream that deals with wickedness from a bottom-up perspective is ‘small wins’. Small wins focus on incremental change to achieve sustainable result, through guidance of a mission or vision. When the right propelling mechanisms are activated, consecutive small wins can lead to sustainable results. This research aims to contribute to current literature with an empirical case to identify current small wins and propelling mechanisms in the plastic pollution problem. Therefore, the following research question is addressed: “How do propelling mechanisms amplify small wins related to the plastic pollution problem in the Netherlands?” Additionally, three sub-questions are posed to address the difference among the actors that contribute to small wins and to give policy recommendations. To answer this research question, a qualitative research strategy was followed, involving a case study of sixteen initiatives that contribute to ‘removal measures’ for plastic pollution in Dutch waterways. These actors were retrieved by desk research. Thereafter, semi-structured interviews provided insights in the context of the initiatives, which was analysed using ‘NVivo’. Additionally, three experts from various Dutch universities were interviewed because of their expertise on plastic initiatives, missions or small wins. The analysis shows that all propelling mechanisms from literature are important in accelerating small wins. Variance among the actor groups is observed. Innovation generators appear to be most concerned about their own barriers and generating credibility to catalyse additional resources, which activates the propelling mechanism logic of attraction. Innovation supporters care for their reputation and image, which is stimulated by increasing energising. Actors facilitating the societal infrastructure appear to transfer responsibilities, by being an example for others, therewith accelerating the bandwagon effect. The propelling mechanisms that seem to be lacking are coupling across policy domains and robustness. Based on these findings, two governance strategies are recommended. The first one is the stimulation of bottom-up solutions that are already in place. It is important to stimulate relevant actors, promising innovations and focus on existing collaboration networks. The second strategy is to provide direction for and intervening in areas that are not naturally addressed. Direction appears to be lacking and should be enhanced to provide guidance. This can be done by addressing national or European regulations for plastic in water, in order to stimulate change.