Businesses endorse plastics waste and pollution goals

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Photo by Ellen MacArthur Foundation

More than 250 companies and groups, including some of the world’s largest consumer goods makers and plastics packaging firms, signed on to a plan 29 Oct from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to make their packaging much more environmentally friendly.

The commitments came during the 2018 Our Ocean Conference, held in Bali, Indonesia, and included pledges that by 2025, 100%of plastic packaging be reusable, compostable or recyclable, as well as moving away from “problematic” packaging and using significantly more recycled plastic in packaging.

SC Johnson, for example, the maker of brands like Ziploc bags and Windex, said it would triple the amount of recycled content plastic packaging — from 10 million kilogrammes to 30 million by 2025 — as it expands use of refillable concentrates and work to boost recycling of plastic film in curbside systems.

“Together with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other global organisations, we are making ambitious commitments and taking united action to create a new plastics economy that helps stop plastic from becoming waste,” said Fisk Johnson, chairman and CEO of Racine, Wis.-based SC Johnson.

The head of the Isle of Wight, England-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has been spearheading global campaigns aimed at rethinking plastic packaging and reducing waste, said it’s received sizable commitments from industry.

“We now have over 10 percent of the market for global plastic packaging by weight who have committed to making 100 percent of the packaging reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025,” said Ellen MacArthur, who called for broad, systemic changes in how plastic packaging is used.

“This isn’t cleaning up the beaches, in the case of plastic, a little bit faster. That’s vital, that has to be done,” she said. “But you need to stem the flow and go to the beginning of the system.”

The effort drew a mix of praise and skepticism from some involved in plastic waste issues.

The Oakland, California-based investor advocacy group As You Sow Foundation, which is leading a $1 trillion coalition of institutional investors pressuring companies on plastics use, said it signed the agreement as a supporter but wanted to see more specifics, like calling for producer responsibility to raise recycling rates.

“Without strong transparency rules, companies will be able to backslide on commitments,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow.

But he said it was a positive that companies are publicly recognising the need to eliminate “problematic” plastic packaging, reduce single use packaging and move to reuse models, and protect “informal sector workers” who collect packaging in developing economies.

Greenpeace cautiously welcomed the announcement as a step in the right direction but criticised the announcements as not requiring companies to set targets to reduce plastics use.

"While elements of the EMF Global Commitment are moving in the right direction, the problem is that companies are given the flexibility to continue prioritising recycling over reduction and reuse. Corporations are not required to set actual targets to reduce the total amount of single-use plastics they are churning out. They can simply continue with business as usual after signing the commitment,” Greenpeace said in a news release.

The Washington-based environmental group Oceana, for its part, said the commitments are “vague promises” and called on companies to stop using plastics.

But many of those companies were praising what was unveiled in Indonesia. The Paris-based Consumer Goods Forum, which includes Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone and retailer Marks and Spencer, put out a statement endorsing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s plans.

CGF said it recognises “the pressing need for our industry to play a leading role in tackling the issue of plastic waste.”

The group said that some of its members are already working individually, and it said it would as a group develop specific “pre-competitive” areas where its companies can work together to improve plastics packaging, including design, recycling and reuse systems and consumer engagement.

"The challenge of plastic waste is real and urgent, and best addressed through specific actions that CGF companies can take individually and collectively in partnership with governments, NGOs and the recycling industry,” said Ian Cook, chairman and CEO of Colgate-Palmolive and co-chair of the CGF board. “We're committed to doing our part to ensure the plastic we need is safely and economically, reused, recycled or composted."

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