Corporates yet to take responsibility for role in the plastics crisis, report warns
Despite a fresh wave of commitments from corporates to reduce their plastic footprint or ban certain single-use items, the wider business community is still failing to accept responsibility for the plastic pollution it produces by placing the onus on consumers.
That is according to a new report from WWF, which reveals that the amount of plastics produced, littered and incinerated globally is set to rise “dramatically” by 2030, despite recent action by businesses.
Entitled ‘solving plastic pollution through accountability’, the report warns that a further 104 million tonnes of plastic will “leak” into ecosystems by 2030 if policymakers, businesses and consumers do not collaborate to “drastically change” their approaches to the issue.
It additionally states that the overall CO2 emissions generated through the plastic life cycle will increase by 50% by 2030, as plastic incineration trebles and alternatives are introduced before any unintended consequences are examined in full.
The report attributes these trends to businesses, governments and NGOs taking “uncoordinated and piecemeal approaches” to tackling plastic pollution, with many focusing solely on specific items or on post-consumer recycling than developing approaches which cover the whole value chain.
It additionally accuses the business community of placing the responsibility on consumers to recycle their packaging, rather than investing in compostable, biodegradable or closed-loop solutions which could drive a larger impact, noting that only 9% of all plastics produced to date have been successfully recycled under this approach.
"Our existing method of producing, using and disposing of plastic is fundamentally broken; it's a system lacking in accountability, which currently operates in a way which practically guarantees that ever-increasing volumes of plastic will leak into nature," WWF International’s director general Marco Lambertini said.
“This issue can be solved only if we apply the right level of responsibility across the whole plastic supply and value chain from design to disposal.”
The recommendations of the report, which include the creation of an international and legally binding treaty on marine plastic pollution, will be put to world leaders and business representatives at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting in Nairobi next week.
WWF argues in the report that such a treaty should include targets for minimising plastic “leaks” that apply on both a national and a corporate level, with nations and large businesses required by law to publicly report on their progress. The NGO also recommends that the treaty should set out financial and technical support for tackling plastic pollution in developing nations and low-income regions.
The publication of the report comes at a time when between eight and 12 million tonnes of plastic are believed to be seeping into oceans and other marine environments every year, harming marine life and ecosystems.
This environmental and social crisis also has financial implications for businesses, with between $80bn and $120bn being lost from the global economy every year due to a linear system for plastic packaging.
In response to the issue, businesses are increasingly expanding their plastics action beyond their own operation by collaborating with competitors, policymakers and NGOs.
Last week, for example, a coalition of 18 corporates launched a new alliance aimed at creating frameworks to measure, map and reduce plastic and microplastic pollution across the globe. Called the Plastic Leak Project and backed by the likes of Adidas, McDonald’s and Dow Chemical Company, the scheme is being supported by the UN and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
Similarly, 26 companies from across the plastics value chain have 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.
The creation of these initiatives builds on schemes such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy and WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact. However, businesses taking part in the newer schemes have faced criticism for investing in new plastic production facilities or expanding their existing infrastructure while pledging to address the issue on a global stage.
The circular economy at edie Live 2019
The circular economy is taking centre stage at the UK’s largest sustainability and energy exhibition this year, with an entire Theatre dedicated to the topic at edie Live on 21-22 May.
The two-day show – edie's biggest event of the year – has become a highlight of the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals looking for new ideas and solutions that will help them achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their business.