Companies “reluctant” to invest in single use plastic alternatives due to lack of cost competitiveness.
Investors must engage with investee firms on improving their research and development efforts to create new solutions to plastic waste pollution, according to a five-year progress report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF).
The Global Commitment, co-launched in 2018 by the EMF and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), sets targets for businesses to reduce plastic waste and pollution by 2025. Over 1,000 organisations, including businesses representing 20% of all plastic packaging used globally and 55 government signatories, have mobilised behind the Commitment.
There is an estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution and data suggests that there are 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean, with an estimated 9% of waste from 460 million tonnes of plastic produced each year is recycled.
A recent UNEP report found that plastic pollution could be reduced by 80% by 2040 if countries and companies “make deep policy and market shifts using existing technologies”. A report by environmental organisation Pacific Environment also called for at least 75% reduction of plastics by 2050.
To mark the halfway point to 2025, the EMF has released a report assessing the progress of these organisations, which found that Global Commitment business signatories have significantly outperformed their peers in tackling plastic waste.
The total tonnage of plastic packaging eliminated by signatories slightly increased compared to 2021 and 20% of packaging producer, brand, and retailer signatories have increased their percentage of reusable plastic packaging in 2022 but overall for all signatories usage was flat from 2021 to 2022.
The report, however, also said that business signatories are likely to miss key 2025 goals.
Brand and retail signatories’ share of reusable plastic packaging has remained flat at an average of 1.2%, despite the majority of signatories investing in reuse pilots. Further, over half (53%) of signatories reported having no reusable plastic packaging.
Economics over environment
Speaking to ESG Investor, Nicholas Vijverman, Programme Manager of in the New Plastics Economy team at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said that it was often not cost competitive for a business to have single use alternatives at this point.
“There are environmental benefits that have economic benefits,” he said. “But at this point it’s just not cost competitive yet, which keeps companies a bit reluctant to invest alternatives.”
He added that policy legislation had a key role to play in “levelling the playing field” and incentivising businesses to invest in solutions to plastic waste pollution.
In three weeks, the EMF will release a study looking at the return models of plastic packaging.
According to Vijverman, the report outlines that if companies collaborate to share plastic packaging it is possible to have both environmental and economic benefits.
This year, the UK, Kenya and Bangladesh have all adopted single-use plastic bans to reduce the flow of plastic pollution into the environment. A third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) in Nairobi is scheduled for later this month to negotiate a global plastics pollution treaty. A final agreement of the global plastics treaty is scheduled for the end of 2024.
Vijverman said the EMF hoped to see strong, globally binding rules, including measures focusing on reuse and recycling, as well as a priority placed on packaging and other sorts of plastics that have a high probability to pollute nature.
The Foundation predicts 20 trillion flexible packaging items, such as wrappers, pouches and sachets, will end up in the ocean by 2040 unless there is more ambitious, binding policy and regulatory measures combined with greater business action.