With the planet’s oceans getting swamped by endless streams of plastic waste, you might be forgiven for being pessimistic about Earth’s future. But pessimism is the wrong attitude. What’s needed is dedication and concerted action aimed at stopping plastic waste at its source.
The numbers alone tell their tale. Since the early 1950s more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced with 60% of that volume ending up in landfills or dumped in the natural environment. If current trends continue, the United Nations warns, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
But there’s some hope on the horizon.
One welcome development is the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which has just been launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and seeks to eliminate plastic waste at source. Signatories to the initiative include companies that account for a fifth of all plastic packaging produced worldwide, including such business heavyweights as Danone, H&M group, L’Oréal, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever.
The Global Commitment aims to create what its originators call “a new normal” for plastic packaging. The plan is to phase out plastic packaging on a large scale with participating businesses monitoring and reporting their progress in doing so. Producers and retailers will commit themselves to eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging while moving from single-use to reuse packaging models. They will also adopt fully recyclable plastic products and circulate plastics already produced so as to increase the amounts of plastics reused or recycled or remade into new products.
The initiative’s vision for a circular economy has been endorsed by the World Economic Forum and the Consumer Goods Forum, which encompasses some 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries. More than 15 financial institutions with over $2.5 trillion in assets have also endorsed the Global Commitment while venture capitalist funds have pledged upwards of $200 million to the goal of creating a circular economy for plastics.
“The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is the most ambitious set of targets we have seen yet in the fight to beat plastics pollution,” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said in a statement. “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.”