Circular economy takes centre stage at Davos

Plastic waste is high on the agenda in Davos this week, with a host of corporate giants including L'Oréal, Mars and Unilever making commitments on their approach to packaging.

An array of circular-related pledges and announcements were made today (23 January) at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where the world’s business and political elites are being urged to bridge the “circularity gap” through leadership and action.

Eleven companies have reaffirmed or announced pledges for 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 includes Amcor, Coca-Cola, Ecover, Evian, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Walmart and Werner & Mertz – together representing more than six million tonnes of plastic packaging each year.

This adds to the growing list of corporates to directly address the ongoing plastics issues, following on from similar commitments by consumer-facing companies and retailers such as Iceland, Waitrose and McDonald’s.

Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said: “It is welcome news that many other major companies are making their own commitments to address ocean plastic waste.

“Yet as a consumer goods industry, we need to go much further, much faster, in addressing the challenge of single use plastics by leading a transition away from the linear take-make-dispose model of consumption, to one which is truly circular by design.”

New Plastics winners

This year’s annual event in Davos features a renewed focus on the resource efficiency agenda, in the wake of growing media attention and pledges from the EU and UK regimes to create a circular economy for plastics.

Following on from the launch of her New Plastics Initiative in the Swiss ski resort last year, Dame Ellen MacArthur has announced the winners of the project which challenges innovators and business to find solutions to the scourge of plastics waste.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has identified five projects developing new materials that target the lightweight, flexible packaging used for products such as coffee and snacks too hard or expensive to recycle. The winners will each receive a $200,000 share of the $1m prize.

Winners include the University of Pittsburgh, which has applied nano-engineering to create a recyclable material that can replace unrecyclable, complex multi-layered packaging, and Aronaz Technologies Spain, which has proposed a magnetic additive that can be applied to a material, creating better air and moisture insulation.

Dame MacArthur said: “These winning innovations show what’s possible when the principles of a circular economy are embraced. Clean-ups continue to play an important role in dealing with the consequences of the waste plastic crisis, but we know we must do more.

“We urgently need solutions that address the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms.”

Circularity gap

Also launched today was an alarming report illustrating how the current linear economy is leaving the planet with a massive strain on its natural resources.

The Global Circularity study claims that more than 90% of the raw materials used globally are not cycled back into the economy. Researchers are calling for a new metric which allows for yearly progress on bridging the “circularity gap” to be addressed.

“Being able to track and target performance via the Global Circularity Metric will help us engage in uniform goal-setting and guide future action in the most impactful way,” said Circle Economy’s chief executive and co-author Harald Friedl.

The report shows that a fully circular economy would reduce both global natural resource use by 28% and cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 72%. Businesses and governments are being urged to tackle the issue by building a global coalition for action, developing a global target and action agenda and translating global goals to local action roadmaps.

“Today’s take-make-waste economic model is not fit for purpose,|” Friedl said. “Embedded in this tradition of the linear economy lies a toxic cocktail of negative consequences, ranging from social inequality, to depletion of natural resources, environmental pollution and worsening of the risks and effects of climate change.

“We call upon businesses and governments to take leadership to develop an action agenda and contribute to the global targets set in the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.”

George Ogleby

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