New global commitment to eliminate plastic waste at the source

By State of Green, November 19, 2018

Footage of fish swimming in oceans surrounded by plastic is becoming a common trope. With estimates suggesting that there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, a new global commitment spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment aims to tackle the problem head on.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative, which draws together businesses and governments to redesign and rethink the future of plastics, has initiated a new global commitment. Aiming to draw a line in the sand, the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment gathers 250 signatories that include businesses, governments, and  organisations from around the world. When combined, the actors behind the commitment represent 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally and include well-known giants such as Danone, H&M Group, L’Oréal, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, HP and Philips, large packaging producers, plastic producers and resource management experts. The aim is to eliminate plastic waste and pollution at the source and is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the UN Environment. The commitment was launched during the Our Ocean conference in Bali on 29th October.

Creating a circular economy for plastics
The commitment’s starting point is that plastic is a problem long before it reaches the water and therefore rather than collecting plastic from the ocean or attempting to hinder it reaching the ocean, efforts should be devoted to addressing the problem far earlier in the value chain. The Global Commitment obligates companies and governments to change the way plastic is produced, used and disposed of. Signatories to the initiative have committed to fulfilling targets that aim to:

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models
  • Innovate to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025
  • Circulate the plastic produced, by significantly increasing the amounts of plastics reused or recycled and made into new packaging or products

The Global Commitment aims to create ‘a new normal’ for plastic packaging that reflects circular economy principles. All business and government signatories have committed to a clear set of 2025 targets underpinned by shared definitions, and will report on progress annually to ensure transparency and help drive momentum. The commitment contains six groups of targets, which assign different objectives based on the target group. For example, government signatories commit to developing ambitious policies that will help fulfil the Global Commitment’s targets.

It is planned that the targets will be reviewed every 18 months and will become increasingly ambitious in the coming years. Businesses that sign the commitment will publish annual data on their progress to help drive momentum and ensure transparency.

-Explore related solution: Treatment and recycling of plastic waste

While the various signatory groups to the commitment have differing targets, what unites them is a common vision, which consists of the following:

  • Elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging via redesign, innovation and where new delivery models are a priority
  • Recycling models are applied where relevant, which reduce the need for single use packaging
  • All plastic packaging is 100 percent recyclable, reusable or compostable.
  • All plastic packaging is recycled, reused or composted in practice
  • The use of plastics is completely decoupled from the consumption of scarce resources.
  • All plastic packaging is free from harmful chemicals and the health, safety and rights of all involved individuals is respected.

The Global Commitment and its vision for a circular economy for plastic are supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and have been endorsed by the World Economic Forum, The Consumer Goods Forum (a CEO-led organisation representing some 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, including Danish companies such as Salling Group and Dagsam), and 40 universities, institutions and academics. More than 15 financial institutions with in excess of $2.5 trillion in assets under management have also endorsed the Global Commitment and over $200 million has been pledged by five venture capital funds to create a circular economy for plastic.

-Explore related solution: Effective sorting for increasing value and reduction of waste

The Global Commitment aims to build on, and reinforce, amongst others, the G7 Plastics Charter, the EU strategy for plastics in a circular economy, the Commonwealth Blue Charter, and the Community of Ocean Action established by the UN. It aim to contribute to the implementation of the UN Environment Assembly resolutions on marine litter and microplastics, and several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG 12 and 14.

-Sources: Waste and Resources Network Denmark (in Danish), New Plastics Economy

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