More than 350 organizations have endorsed “one common vision” of a circular economy where plastic never becomes waste, according to an update from the New Plastics Economy Commitment, a nascent initiative that aims to tackle plastic pollution at its source.
Launched this past October by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environmental Programme, the pact includes some of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies, retailers and plastic packaging producers, as well as major material manufacturers, recyclers and durable goods companies.
Its 150 business signatories—which include H&M, Target and Zara owner Inditex, and collectively account for more than 20 percent of global plastic packaging volumes—have pledged to increase the recycled content of their packaging from a current global average of 2 percent to 25 percent by 2025. (Marks & Spencer has promised 30 percent and Walmart 17 percent.)
Amounting to a demand of 5 million metric tons of recycled plastic, this is the “biggest ever” commitment to using recycled plastics for plastic packaging, the report noted. Though achieving this commitment would result in a significant reduction in virgin plastics production, along with a recurring annual savings of roughly 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, considerably more ambition is still needed.
“The targets and action plans set out in this report are a significant step forward compared with the pace of change of past decades,” Sander Defruyt, New Plastics Economy lead, said in a statement. “However, they are still far from truly matching the scale of the problem.”
Commitments involving the elimination of “unnecessary and problematic” items and innovating reuse packaging models, in particular, still fall short, Defruyt said. Only 14 brands and retailers, including Inditex and Schwarz Group, for instance, have taken or are planning to eliminate or significantly reduce single-use carrier bags. (H&M will be switching from plastic to paper bags by the end of 2019.) And just 40 brands and retailers will pilot or expand reuse and refill schemes.
“Ambition levels must continue to rise to make real strides in addressing global plastic pollution by 2025, and moving from commitment to action is crucial,” Defruyt added. “Major investments, innovations and transformation programs need to start now.”
One notable holdout from this conversation is Amazon, which, as the muscle behind half of all e-commerce transactions in 2018, is the biggest producer and shipper of packaging waste, according to eMarketer. The e-tail giant has made a few eco-friendly overtures, however, first by announcing in October its plans to invest $10 million in Closed Loop Fund, a social impact fund that works to divert recyclable materials from the landfill, then by pledging in February that half its shipments will produce “net zero” carbon emissions by 2030.
The part of the value chain least represented in the commitment is raw materials.
“At the moment, Indorama and Borealis are the only two major plastic producers that have signed, both setting targets to significantly increase the inclusion of recycled content in their production processes,” the report said. By continuing to extract new raw materials rather than circulate existing ones, the chemicals industry is missing out on a $55 billion opportunity, according to numbers crunched by McKinsey & Company.
Stora Enso, a paper and pulp producer that is working with Ikea and H&M’s TreetoTextile venture to develop cost-effective and more environmentally friendly cellulosic fibers, announced last week that it will be helping the Global Commitment create alternatives to plastic packaging based on sustainably sourced wood fibers.
The New Plastics Economy has some impressive investor weight thrown behind it, too. It currently boasts 26 financial institutions with $4.2 trillion worth in collective assets as signatories. Six investors have also pledged a total of $275 million to develop business models, materials, technologies and other solutions to help signatories realize their goals, per the report.