The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment: towards a circular future

With 8 million tonnes of plastic currently entering the ocean each year, urgent action is needed. Clean-up efforts are not enough; plastic waste needs to be eliminated at its source.

At last year’s Our Ocean Conference, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with UN Environment, launched the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, uniting businesses, governments and supporting organisations behind a shared vision for a circular economy in which plastic never becomes waste.

The Global Commitment is underpinned by a six-point vision that focuses on upstream innovation. It outlines a circular economy for plastics in which problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging is eliminated through redesign, innovation and new delivery models. It encourages reuse business models that reduce the need for single-use packaging, and ensures plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by design and in practice, supported by infrastructure. The use of plastics is also fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources, all plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals, and the health, safety, and rights of all people involved are respected.

At its launch, the Global Commitment had 250 signatures from organisations and individuals dedicated to redesigning the plastics industry. The group now exceeds 400 and signatories represent all segments of the plastics value chain, including businesses responsible for 20% of all plastic packaging produced around the world. Not only have these industry giants joined together to change the future of the plastics sector, the Global Commitment has motivated several major businesses to design a new or updated packaging strategy. It has also stirred many smaller businesses to evaluate their plastic packaging portfolio for the very first time.

As well as industry stakeholders, the Global Commitment now has the signatures of 18 governments across five continents, at national, regional and city level. It is also supported by WWF and has been endorsed by the World Economic Forum, The Consumer Goods Forum, and more than 50 universities, academics and institutes. 26 financial institutions with a combined asset value of $4.2 trillion have also endorsed the commitment and six additional investors have pledged to invest a total of $275 million.

Beyond aligning on a common vision, business and government signatories have signed up to a common set of concrete 2025 targets that propel them towards that vision. These targets have significantly raised the signatories ambition levels, resulting in a shared level of ambition across all stakeholders.

Targets will be reviewed and will become increasingly ambitious in the coming years, and the impact of the Global Commitment will go far beyond the sum of its individual targets. For most businesses that have committed, so have many of their suppliers, competitors and customers. If governments are committed, this will foster supportive policy and regulation development. When all of these organisations align, suddenly systemic change is possible.

At this year’s Our Ocean Conference, the Foundation will launch its first annual Global Commitment progress report. It includes transparent reporting by signatories and sets a clear baseline to measure progress against in the coming years. The report shows that  unprecedented collective commitments and real progress being made. This includes pledges to significantly increase the use of recycled content, leading to a surge in demand for post-consumer recycled materials. Companies of all sizes are starting to seize the opportunities offered by reuse models, as is explored in the Foundation’s Reuse – Rethinking Packaging book. If we converted just 20% of single-use plastic packaging to reusable alternatives, it could unlock $10 billion for businesses.

 

Government signatories are also making great strides. New Zealand is working towards a circular economy through the Waste Minimisation Fund and The New Zealand Plastic Packaging Declaration, which aims to ensure all packaging in the country is 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier. Likewise, the Government of Grenada has implemented the Non Biodegradable Waste Control Act. The City of Austin, Texas, offers a rebate for businesses that implement zero-waste practices and is promoting a marketplace for reuse opportunities for commercial plastic items. The city is also creating a directory to encourage donation and resale of reusable plastic items by both residents and businesses.

 

Through policies like these, governments are incentivising producers. The UK government, for example, is improving the way it invokes the ‘polluter pays’ principle, meaning that producers will pay the full net costs of managing packaging waste at the end of its life.

 

The UK is also one of three pioneering countries to have joined the Foundation’s Plastics Pact network, the others being France and Chile, with many more currently developing similar initiatives. Aligned with the vision and targets of the Global Commitment, the Plastics Pact is a network of initiatives led by local organisations that unites governments, businesses, and citizens to drive action at national and regional levels.

 

The Global Commitment is part of the Foundation’s work to accelerate a total shift to a circular economy that goes beyond plastics to address all industries. It sees all waste designed out as material streams become circular and regenerative rather than linear and extractive.

 

For global transformations to take place across industries, international events like the Our Ocean Conference are vital opportunities for stakeholders to come together to discuss the issues we are facing, as well as the possible solutions. They provide a platform to increase the reach of efforts like the Global Commitment, which itself provides a mechanism for leaders to step forward and publicly make their commitments, to show others what is possible.

 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UN Environment call on all businesses that make or use plastics, and all governments across the world, to sign up to the Global Commitment. The question is not whether creating a circular economy is possible, but what we are going to do together to make it happen.