In advance of The Consumer Goods Forum’s Sustainable Retail Summit in October 2019, Kavita Prakash-Mani, Global Conservation Director at WWF, invites the consumer goods industry to make, and act on, public commitments to plastic waste reduction and recovery and help shape both industry norms and global policy.
Brilliant and Problematic
Plastic is brilliant – and everywhere. Our modern life depends on it. And its low-cost and material advantages make it indispensable in everything from household goods, medical equipment and bank notes, to packaging, motor vehicles, buildings and fishing nets.
Yet as useful as it is, our ever-increasing reliance on single-use plastics, a global throwaway culture and poor waste management, have created a ubiquitous problem. Plastic pollution is choking our planet – imperilling marine life, contaminating the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink, and suffocating our rivers and oceans.
Plastic doesn’t belong in nature. And yet our oceans contain 300 million tons and we add another 8 million every year – that’s a truck load of plastic a minute!
Taking hundreds of years to degrade, it is proving detrimental to wildlife and people in ways we are only just beginning to understand. If we do nothing, by 2050, there may be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish.
No Plastic in Nature
We can and must stop plastics from becoming waste in the first place, and rethink the entire lifecycle of how we source, design and manage the plastic materials we depend upon.
Our vision at WWF is No Plastic in Nature by 2030 by eliminating unnecessary plastic and creating a circular plastics economy for the plastics we need – one that jettisons today’s linear take-make-dispose model and enables us to retain the value of plastic through reuse and recycling.
Corporate Leadership Now
As producers and users of plastics, businesses have a critical role to play in stopping the flow of plastic into nature and solving the plastic pollution crisis. And the CGF’s members are particularly well-placed to drive this transformative change. In October 2018, the CGF’s Board issued a statement endorsing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy (NPE) vision, and some member companies are already advancing efforts that are consistent with the goals and objectives of the NPE.
Consumers are demanding sustainability and they expect business to deliver. Problematic and unnecessary plastics need to be designed out while new products, business models and policies transform how plastics are used, recycled and reused.
Currently, linear plastic value chains mean as much as 95% ($80-120 billion) of the value of plastic packaging is lost annually. The circular plastic economy represents an opportunity for companies to recapture some of this value while enhancing reputations and securing a stronger license to operate.
If your business hasn’t already signed up to the Global Commitment to eliminate plastic pollution at source, now is the time.
We believe just 100 top companies could prevent the generation of ten million tons of plastic waste – and action across sectors and supply chains could triple the impact.
We also realize companies need a roadmap for navigating the broken plastics system, a collaborative environment that fosters innovation and aggressive goal-setting, and the right tools to make bold visions a reality.
That’s why we’ve launched ReSource: Plastic, an activation hub designed to close the ‘how’ gap for companies that are ready to move from aspiration to meaningful and measurable action, and help scale lasting systemic change.
ReSource will help companies reduce unnecessary plastic use and plastic waste, find solutions through pre-competitive collaboration with peers, consumers, and governments, and influence how plastic is used, collected and processed globally.
Together with Our Thought Partners, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Ocean Conservancy, we’re applying circularity to the plastic system, and with our Principal Members – Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Tetra Pak, and The Coca-Cola Company – we’re aiming to deliver practical solutions at a global scale.
Our report, No Plastic in Nature: A Practical Guide for Business Engagement, offers guidance for companies looking to drive systemic change through strategic collaboration, design and innovation.
Beyond reducing their own plastic waste, companies can also support consumers and governments to accelerate change across the plastics system.
Breaking down into microplastics, plastic in rivers and oceans enters our food chain, with the average person perhaps ingesting as many as 2000 plastic particles every week – by some estimates 5 grams per week or the equivalent of a credit card.
WWF’s Your Plastic Diet campaign supports consumers to make lifestyle changes that reduce their use of unnecessary and problematic plastics. CGF members can help consumers transition to better choices.
60% of the plastic polluting our oceans comes from just ten rivers flowing through densely populated areas that lack proper waste management. Our forthcoming Plastic Smart Cities will promote solutions that help 1,000 cities transition to a circular economy and stop plastic waste from entering the marine environment by 2030.
We’re also calling on governments to introduce a global legally-binding UN agreement to stop plastic waste from polluting our oceans. CGF members can join this call for action by helping establish Extended Producer Responsibility programmes to ensure businesses take responsibility for the end-of-life management of products and packaging by investing in better waste management.
Back to the Future and a New Deal
When leading companies and NGOs collaborate on finding solutions – from reducing plastic pollution and shifting to bio-based and recycled materials, to influencing public policy and shaping consumer behaviour – real change happens.
Alongside a plastic revolution, we also need a New Deal for Nature and People. When world leaders make decisions on nature, climate and sustainability in 2020, we must ensure putting nature on the path to recovery is the top priority.
The role of the private sector in finding solutions is central. Together, we can show what a future with no plastic in nature and healthy natural systems actually looks like – a world where oceans, wildlife, communities, and businesses thrive is within our reach.
This post was written and contributed by:
Global Conversation Director