The positive scale of global efforts to prevent plastic pollution has been revealed in a new report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This new annual report is being released 12 months after the launch of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which sets out a circular economy vision for plastic.
Launched in October 2018, the Global Commitment now has over 400 organisations committed to eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging, and undertaking innovations so that all plastic packaging is 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable, as well as safely and easily circulated without becoming waste or pollution.
This report aims to provide an unprecedented level of transparency on how almost 200 businesses and governments are changing their plastic production and use to achieve this. It shows promising early progress.
Examples of corporate progress cited include: Unilever has announced it will reduce its use of virgin plastic in packaging by 50 per cent; Mars, Incorporated said it will make reductions of 25 per cent by 2025; and PepsiCo aims to reduce the use of virgin plastic in its beverage business by 20 per cent by 2025.
Some of the most commonly identified problematic plastic items and materials are being eliminated at scale. For example, around 70 per cent of relevant signatories are eliminating single-use straws, carrier bags and carbon black plastics, and around 80 per cent are eliminating PVC from their packaging.
Beyond bans, signatories including governments like Rwanda, the UK and Chile, and cities of Sao Paulo and Austin, to name a few, are putting in place a diverse set of policy measures ranging from public procurement and extended producer responsibility schemes to public awareness campaigns, fiscal measures, and incentives for research and development.
Analysis carried out for the report shows that on average 60 per cent of business signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable today. Through the Global Commitment they have committed to make this 100 per cent by 2025.
Packaged goods and retail signatories have pledged to increase recycled plastic in packaging more than five-fold, from four to 22 per cent, by 2025. The signatories’ total demand for recycled content in packaging by 2025 will be more than 5 million tonnes annually, equivalent to keeping 25 million barrels of oil in the ground every year.
While significant investments are being made to achieve these targets, more major investment, innovation, and transformation programmes need to be developed, and more businesses and governments are urged to join the Global Commitment to ensure impact can be made at scale.
Tackling plastic waste and pollution means moving beyond recycling and the elimination of only the most commonly identified problematic packaging. Through innovation, product and supply chain redesign, and new business models, companies may reduce their overall plastic packaging use, while unlocking new economic opportunities.
Additional examples include: plastics producer Indorama Ventures has pledged to invest USD 1.5 billion towards achieving its target of producing 750,000 tonnes of recycled PET per annum by 2025; and the UK Government is mobilising approximately GBP 3 billion towards improving local collection and recycling infrastructure and packaging innovation through public-private finance initiatives. In addition, recycling companies that have signed the Global Commitment have committed to collectively quadruple the amount of recycled plastics they produce by 2025.
While more than 40 signatory companies are piloting reuse schemes, currently less than 2 per cent of plastic packaging in the signatory group is reusable, indicating a significant but underexplored opportunity. Analysis by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has shown that replacing just 20 per cent of single-use plastic packaging with reusable alternatives offers an opportunity worth at least USD 10 billion. In addition, government signatories are supporting reuse schemes in various ways, including through public awareness campaigns and education, extended producer responsibility or public-private collaboration.
The New Plastics Economy will publish the next Global Commitment progress report in Autumn 2020, and every year following up to 2025.