Business giants team up to combat plastic pollution 'leaks'

Adidas, Dow Chemical Company and McDonald's are among the 18 big-name businesses to have co-founded a new alliance aimed at creating frameworks to measure, map and reduce plastic and microplastic pollution across the globe.

Between $80bn and $120bn is lost from the global economy every year due to a non-circular system for plastic packaging

Between $80bn and $120bn is lost from the global economy every year due to a non-circular system for plastic packaging

The initiative, called the Plastic Leak Project (PLP), will see businesses, consultants, charities and NGOs work together to develop a set of metrics enabling any organisation to assess where plastic pollution is being leaked into nature within its value chain.

Using circular economy principles and life cycle assessment frameworks, the group will co-create a string of industry-specific guidelines within the next two years. To ensure that corporates from a range of sectors and geographical locations take part, these tools will be made open-source.

The programme is being overseen by sustainability consultancy Quantis and eco-design firm EA. Its 18 co-founding corporations are Adidas, Arla, Cotton Incorporated, Cyclos, Decathlon, The Dow Chemical Company, Eastman, Enel X, European Bioplastics, European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association, Mars Incorporated, McDonald’s, PlasticsEurope and Sympatex Technologies.

In addition to its founding corporate members, the PLP has also garnered support from several international committees, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Life Cycle Initiative and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Quantis' senior sustainability consultant Laura Peano said the firm was inspired to set up the PLP after noticing that corporate and government pledges to prevent plastics pollution were generally not backed up with tools to helps facilitators measure the impact of their actions.

“Today, policies, bans and decisions on plastic leakage are often based on passion and pressure rather than science,” Peano, who is managing the PLP, explained.

“We truly believe that businesses are effective at influencing change and we also know, from years of experience leading multi-stakeholder initiatives, that decisions are more effective if they are metric-based and that change comes faster and further with a collective approach.”

A further key motivation for setting up the initiative, Peano added, was the fact that many organisations have plumped for consumer-facing “quick fixes” – like plastic bag taxes or plastic straw bans – rather than identifying their plastic waste “hotspots”.

Partnerships against plastic pollution

As public awareness of the plastic pollution crisis continues to mount, the PLP is the latest in a movement of multi-stakeholder partnerships aimed at tackling plastic pollution to have launched in recent months.

Last month, 26 companies from across the plastics value chain jointly committed more than $1bn (£777m) as part of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which is striving to scale solutions that minimise the amount of plastic entering the environment and remove existing pollution. Founding members include the likes of Procter & Gamble (P&G), Veolia and ExxonMobil.

Similarly, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation last year launched its New Plastics Economy Global Commitment initiative in partnership with UN Environment. The Commitment, which has been signed by more than 250 corporates, aims to create a “new normal” for plastic packaging by eliminating single-use packaging materials, increasing the amount of reused or recycled plastics in new products and innovating to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be reused, recycled, or composted by 2025. Signatories include business giants, packaging producers, waste management firms and financial institutions.

The launch of these programmes comes at a time when between eight and 12 million tonnes of plastic is believed to seep into the oceans each year. By 2050, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has warned, there could be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the oceans. By that time, it is believed that plastics could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.

As well as the environmental and social challenges posed by plastic pollution, the crisis also highlights the scale of the missed business opportunity. Between $80bn and $120bn is now lost from the global economy every year due to a non-circular system for plastic packaging. 

Sarah George



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