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On March 3rd, Director of Sustainability at The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), Ignacio Gavilan, joined a panel discussion on marine plastic pollution and the responsibility of the consumer goods industry at The Economist Group’s World Ocean Summit. Ignacio, who oversees the CGF’s Coalitions on Plastic Waste and Food Waste was invited to join a panel entitled “Plastics: Is focusing on the consumer-goods sector the best way to minimise plastic use?” to share his thoughts on the industry’s role in solving the plastics problem, and the value of collaboration.

The panel brought together experts from inside and outside the industry, including Ann Tracy, Chief Sustainability Officer at Colgate-Palmolive, Simon Hombersley, Chief Executive at Xampla and Simon Reddy, Director at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Moderated by The Economist’s Business Editor, Jan Piotrowski, the session resulted in an engaging discussion around the degree of responsibility that consumer goods companies must take for minimising plastic use, the various strategies the industry must employ to drive effective change, as well as the innovations that are emerging to help solve this problem. 

The panel started by examining the degree of responsibility that the consumer goods industry bears for the 11 million tons plastics ending up in nature each year. Ignacio explained that it is a complex question which we do not currently have all of the answers to, however measurement is key to better understanding the industry’s footprint. The panel agreed that it is vital that the industry is able to establish baselines to effectively measure progress going forwards and apply solutions. Ann from Colgate-Palmolive, added that standardisation is equally as important so that everyone is measuring their plastic waste footprint in a harmonised way. She shared that The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is partnering with WWF to develop a tool to help companies understand the fate of their plastic packaging.

The panel then spoke about the role of innovation, and Simon from Xampla shared on their work to create a next generation replacement for plastics from plant protein, emphasising the need for thought leadership in the sphere, as well as buy-in from brands. Ann from Colgate-Palmolive spoke about the company’s first-of-its-kind recyclable toothpaste tube, explaining that they made the decision to share the technology with the industry in the hope that other companies would convert their products. She mentioned that through their CGF membership, they have been able to collaborate pre-competitively with big companies. “We welcome the accelerators, the innovators and the entrepreneurs”, she said, “but we the bigger companies can work to bring this to scale, as quickly as possible”.

The conversation then touched on consumers and their willingness to purchase alternatives to plastic. Consumers are creatures of habit, they noted, but the best way to influence their buying habits is to make a superior product. The panelists agreed that brands are in a unique position to influence consumers and solicit change. Although the consumer profile differs between the developed and developing world, systemic changes must be implemented globally.

Ignacio closed the discussion by speaking on the importance of working together in moving the needle on plastics. “Collaboration is the key to reduce and eliminate the impacts of plastic waste.”, he said. A few areas where collaboration could help drive progress, he said, include developing innovative solutions for plastics that pose a problem at end-of-life, creating partnerships with the waste management sector, measuring effectively, and finally developing and growing a strong end market for all the recovered material to ensure we are move towards circularity.

The CGF was a proud association partner of the 8th annual World Oceans Summit, which took the format of a virtual week from 1st to 5th March. For more details about the event, visit the Summit’s website.

For more information about the CGF’s work to help drive progress towards a world where no plastic ends up in nature, learn about our Plastic Waste Coalition.