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Virgin plastic use by brands to drop nearly 20% by 2025, report shows

Millions of dollars are being invested in cleaning up our oceans, rivers and beaches in an effort to turn the tide against plastic pollution. These efforts are vital, but they will be in vain if even more plastics leak into the environment – ​​or are dumped in landfills or burned.

Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, the Global Commitment has united more than 500 organizations behind a shared vision of a circular economy for plastics. Driven by the goal of tackling plastic pollution at its source, companies representing 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally have committed to ambitious 2025 targets to help realize that common vision.

The recently released Global Commitment 2021 Progress Report for plastics shows that after decades of growth, virgin plastic use by brands and retailers appears to have peaked in 2021 and will decline by nearly 20% by 2025, in absolute numbers, compared to 2018. 

The report estimates that raising ambitions to that level will prevent the annual production of 8 million tons of virgin plastic by 2025. That’s the equivalent of keeping 40 million barrels of oil underground.

While reducing the use of virgin plastics is a welcome trend, current progress is largely driven by the shift from virgin plastic to recycled plastic. However, this is just part of the solution, not including the total amount of plastic packaging on the market. 

There is little evidence of ambitious efforts to reduce the need for single-use packaging from the start. Less than 2% of the plastic packaging of the Commitment signatory companies is reusable and, for more than half of these companies, the percentage drops to 0%. While these changes take time, more concerning is that levels of ambition to explore and scale reuse appear very low. Just 11% of signatories launched more than three pilots in the last year, while 56% launched none at all.

“We are not going to solve plastic pollution through more recycling. Eliminating disposable packaging is a vital part of solving the problem. Alarmingly, our reports show that there is little investment in this. At the beginning of the chains, we urgently need to focus on innovation at the origin, reconsidering how products can be traded without packaging or with reusable packaging. It allows the elimination of waste and means that we can eliminate carbon emissions while creating new business opportunities. Replacing just 20% of disposable packaging with reusable packaging represents an estimated $10 billion opportunity.”, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder and Chair of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Board of Trustees, says.

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Source: The Global Commitment 2021