‘A race to the top’: Global commitment on plastic economy launched

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

New plastics pledge garners broad-based support but does it go far enough? ©iStock
New plastics pledge garners broad-based support but does it go far enough? ©iStock

Related tags Plastic Sustainability Pollution

Multinational food and beverage companies, governments and NGOs have united behind a pledge to “eradicate plastic waste and pollution at the source” and develop circular economy models for plastics.

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment, was unveiled at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali today (29 October).

Businesses that sign the commitment will publish annual data on their progress to help “drive momentum and ensure transparency​”. Signatories have said they will make sure 100% of their plastic packaging is recyclable by 2025.

Targets included in the pledge will be reviewed every 18 months, and become “increasingly ambitious”​ in the coming years, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said. 

Targets include:
• The elimination of "problematic or unnecessary" plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models through redesign, innovation, and new delivery models
• Innovation to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025
• The circulation of plastic produced, by significantly increasing the amount of plastics reused or recycled and made into new packaging or products
• The application of reuse models where relevant, reducing the need for single-use packaging
• The use of plastic to be fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources
• All plastic packaging must be free of hazardous chemicals. The health, safety, and human rights of those in the supply chain must be respected

Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, stressed that while plastic clean up initiatives are now needed to protect the oceans, it is also vital to stop plastic pollution at “source”​.

“The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment draws a line in the sand, with businesses, governments and others around the world uniting behind a clear vision for what we need to create a circular economy for plastic,”​ she said.

“I encourage all businesses and governments to go further and embark on a race to the top in the creation of a circular economy for plastic. One in which this material never becomes waste or pollution.”

Innovation investment promised

Signatories collectively represent more than 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally. They include the world’s largest food and beverage brands: Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, The Coca Cola Co., Mars and Danone are among those who have signed up to the commitment.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was launched in 2010 to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Ellen MacArthur
Ellen MacArthur

“This Global Commitment is a step-change we urgently need in order to move from a linear to a circular economy. We want to act and lead by example. We will do our part to ensure that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in the natural environment,”​ Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider commented.

Investors and financial institutions signaled their support: More than 15 financial institutions with over US$2.5trn in assets under management endorsed the Global Commitment. Over US$200m in investment has been pledged by five venture capital funds to support the development of a circular economy for plastic.

A number of global governments, including – among others - France, the UK and Portugal, added their weight to the approach. 

Commenting on the Commitment, Brune Poirson, French Secretary of State to the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, stressed the “urgency”​ of the situation.

“We are on the edge of a plastic precipice. The urgency of the situation demands that we take responsibility: we must have control over our usage of plastics, stop upstream unnecessary consumption of plastics, innovate for eco-design products, re-use and recycle the remaining plastics.”

UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, also flagged the necessity of a collective response: “Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world. It is a global problem requiring a global solution… Only by unifying countries and businesses all over the world we will be able to safeguard our land, rivers and seas for future generations.”

'More plastic than fish'


Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s. About 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment.

If current trends continue, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Does it go far enough?

Environmentalists and NGOs also broadly welcomed the move, which has secured support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). 

Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, echoed the need for cross-sector collaboration to tackle plastic pollution.

“The plastics crisis can only be solved with the combined efforts of all key players in the system,”​ Sukhdev said. “WWF therefore endorses the The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment as we consider it an important step forward to join the efforts of businesses and governments around the world towards system-wide solutions.”

The World Economic Forum, The Consumer Goods Forum and 40 universities, institutions and academics have endorsed the Commitment.

Nevertheless, some are concerned that the pledge is not ambitious enough.

Greenpeace UK senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge welcomed the positive news that consumer brands are taking note of the groundswell of public pressure for action on plastics. “The sheer number and size of the companies behind this pledge shows the industry is responding to people’s concerns about the impacts of plastic waste.”

However, she warned: “Just because something is recyclable, it doesn’t mean it will actually be recycled.”

Greenpeace wants a stronger emphasis in reducing the amount of plastic put in circulation.

“The problem is that leading brands are already producing more plastic waste than our recycling systems can cope with, with the overflow being dumped in South East Asia or burnt in incinerators. Just because something is recyclable, it doesn’t mean it will actually be recycled. With our recycling sector creaking at the seams and global plastic production set to quadruple by 2050, we need leading consumer brands to bring in ambitious targets to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they put in circulation,”​ Edge argued.

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