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Burberry, H&M Sign Pact to Fight Plastic Waste ‘at the Source’

The war against plastic pollution just received some major firepower.

Burberry, Stella McCartney, H&M and Zara owner Inditex joined more than 250 brands, retailers and organizations this week to pledge to eradicate plastic waste “at the source.”

Plastic waste and pollution is one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our age, said Marco Gobbetti, CEO of Burberry, in a statement.

The brainchild of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and United Nations Environment, The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is a “line in the sand” with a series of targets designed to create a “new normal” for plastic packaging, according to Ellen MacArthur, who unveiled the commitment at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali on Monday.

Other signatories of the pact, some representing 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally, include Danone, L’Oreal, Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the British and Chilean governments.

“We know that cleaning up plastics from our beaches and oceans is vital, but this does not stop the tide of plastic entering the oceans each year; we need to move upstream to the source of the flow,” MacArthur said. “The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment draws a line in the sand, with businesses, governments and others around the world uniting behind a clear vision for what we need to create a circular economy for plastic.”

Among the agreement’s stated goals is the elimination of  “problematic” and unnecessary plastic packaging, along with a shift from single-use to reusable packaging models. Signatories have also promised to innovate new methods of plastic packaging that can be easily and safely reused, recycled or composted by 2025. They must also keep existing plastics in circulation, reusing or recycling them into new packaging or products.

Targets, MacArthur said, will be reviewed every 18 months and become “increasingly ambitious” over the coming years. At the same time, signatories are expected to publish annual data on their progress to “drive momentum” and ensure transparency.

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The commitment has been endorsed by the World Economic Forum, the Consumer Goods Forum, World Wildlife Fund International and 40 universities, institutions and academics. More than 15 financial entities with a combined $2.5 trillion in assets under management have also thrown in their support, as have five venture capital funds, which have earmarked $200 million toward creating a circular economy for plastic. 

Though the Global Commitment is just “one step” on a challenging journey, it’s “one which can lead to huge benefits for society, the economy and the environment,” MacArthur said.

Researchers estimate that roughly 60 percent of the more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced since the early 1950s has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment. If the industry doesn’t clean up its act in time, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

“I encourage all businesses and governments to go further and embark on a race to the top in the creation of a circular economy for plastic,” MacArthur added. “One in which this material never becomes waste or pollution.” Eventually, she says she wants to see the use of plastic fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources like oil, natural gas and coal. 

UN Environment, which spearheads the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and its Clean Seas Campaign, launched last month a Global Plastics Platform to support international efforts to attack plastic pollution. It said it will use its convening power to rally governments and other stakeholders to engage with the Global Commitment.

“Ocean plastic is one of the most visible and disturbing examples of a plastic pollution crisis. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is the most ambitious set of targets we have seen yet in the fight to beat plastics pollution,” said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment. “It sets out the steps businesses and governments must take if we are to find a solution to the root causes of plastic pollution and we urge all those working towards dealing with this global issue to sign it.”