Committing to a new global plastics economy

While improving recycling is crucial, we cannot recycle our way out of the plastics issues we currently face. Although industry commitments show some progress on eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastics, and on innovating towards reuse models, much more needs to be done in these areas.

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites businesses, governments, and other organisations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. It is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment. Launched in 2018, the Global Commitment already unites more than 400 organisations on its common vision of a circular economy for plastics, keeping plastics in the economy and out of the ocean. Signatories include:
• Close to 200 businesses that are part of the plastic packaging value chain, jointly representing over 20% of all plastic packaging used globally, including many of the world’s leading consumer packaged goods companies, retailers, and plastic packaging producers
• 16 governments across five continents and across national, regional, and city level
• 26 financial institutions with a combined USD 4.2 trillion worth of assets under management and 6 investors
in total committing to invest about USD 275 million
• Leading institutions such as WWF, the World Economic Forum, the Consumer Goods Forum, and IUCN
• More than 50 academics, universities, and other educational or research organisations including MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, Michigan State University, and University College London
All 400+ organisations have endorsed one common vision of a circular economy for plastics, in which plastics never become waste.
To help make this vision a reality, all business and government signatories to the Global Commitment are committing to a set of ambitious 2025 targets. They will work to eliminate the plastic items we don’t need; innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.
Credibility and transparency are ensured by setting a clear minimum level of ambition for signatories, common definitions underpinning all commitments, publication of commitments online and annual reporting on progress, with the first progress report to be published later in 2019. The minimum ambition level will be reviewed every 18 to 24 months, and become increasingly ambitious over the coming years to ensure the Global Commitment continues to represent true leadership.
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 and join the more than 400 signatories in a ‘race to the top’ to create a circular economy for plastic.

A common vision for a circular economy for plastics
Over 400 organisations have endorsed one common vision of a circular economy for plastics, where plastics never become waste. They recognise this vision offers a root cause solution to plastic pollution with profound economic, environmental, and societal benefits. For plastic packaging, specifically, this vision for a circular economy is defined by six characteristics:

1. Elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation, and new delivery models is a priority.  Plastics bring many benefits. At the same time,
there are some problematic items on the market that need to be eliminated to achieve a circular economy, and, sometimes, plastic packaging can be avoided altogether while maintaining utility

2. Reuse models are applied where relevant, reducing the need for single-use packaging. While improving recycling is crucial, we cannot recycle our way out of the plastics issues we currently face. Wherever relevant, reuse business models should be explored as a preferred ‘inner loop’, reducing the need for single-use plastic packaging.

3. All plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable. This requires a combination of redesign and innovation in business models, materials, packaging design, and reprocessing technologies. Compostable plastic packaging is not a blanket solution, but rather one for specific, targeted applications.

4. All plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice. No plastics should end up in the environment. Landfill, incineration, and waste-to-energy are not part of the circular economy target state. Businesses producing and/or selling packaging have a responsibility beyond the design and use of their packaging, which includes contributing towards it being collected and reused, recycled, or composted in practice. Governments are essential in setting up effective collection infrastructure, facilitating the establishment of related self- sustaining funding mechanisms, and providing an enabling regulatory and policy landscape.

5. The use of plastics is fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources.  This decoupling should happen first and foremost through reducing the use of virgin plastics (by way of dematerialisation, reuse, and recycling). Using recycled content is essential (where legally and technically possible) both to decouple from finite feedstocks and to stimulate demand for collection and recycling. Over time, remaining virgin inputs (if any) should switch to renewable feedstocks where proven to be environmentally beneficial and to come from responsibly managed sources. Over time, the production and recycling of plastics should be powered entirely by renewable energy.

6. All plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals, and the health, safety, and rights of all people involved are respected. The use of hazardous chemicals in packaging and its manufacturing and recycling processes should be eliminated (if not done yet).  It is essential to respect the health, safety, and rights of
all people involved in all parts of the plastics system, and particularly to improve worker conditions in informal (waste picker) sectors.

This vision is the target state signatories work towards over time, acknowledging that realising it will require significant effort and investment, recognising the importance of taking a full life-cycle and systems perspective – aiming for better economic and environmental outcomes overall, and above all recognising the time to act is now.

New Plastics Economy Global Commitment Report:  EM Foundation