Home » Environment » Eliminating Plastic Waste at Source in the Circular Economy
Sander Defruyt

Sander Defruyt

Lead, New Plastics Economy, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Plastic can be a valuable material. But the amount of it that currently ends up in oceans and landfill is now almost universally recognized as unacceptable.

Plastic can be a valuable material. But the amount of it that currently ends up in oceans and landfill is now almost universally recognized as unacceptable. In Canada, over 85% of plastic is used only once and is then discarded.

This huge waste problem is an inevitable part of the linear economy that we all operate in – we take resources from the environment, make things with them and then dispose of them as waste. It’s an unsustainable system and one which is responsible for at least 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

There is another way. The adoption of a circular economy can tackle plastic pollution at the source as well as potentially mitigate climate change. But it does require some big changes to the ways that most businesses operate – eliminating the plastics we don’t need at the design stage; innovating to ensure the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable; and circulating everything to keep it out of the environment and in the economy.

Get this right and the benefits could be widespread. A circular economy has the capability to reduce GHGs from the production, use, and disposal of plastics by 25%, and create 700,000 new jobs by 2040.

In 2018, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme established the Global Commitment to bring together businesses and governments behind a common vision of a circular economy for plastic. More than 500 organizations have agreed to work towards concrete 2025 targets on how they produce, use, and reuse plastic.

These actions are furthered by a network of groups, sharing best practices. Under the banner of the Foundation’s global Plastics Pact Network, there are now 10 Plastic Pacts convened at individual country levels, together with two regional Pacts.

Canada’s Plastic Pact was launched in January 2021, led by The Natural Step Canada and with members including Walmart, Danone Canada and Maple Leaf Foods. The group has just unveiled its Roadmap for 2025 – a manifesto comprising four targets;

1.    Define a list of plastic packaging that is to be designated as problematic or unnecessary and take measures to eliminate these by 2025

2.    Support efforts towards 100% of plastic packaging being designed to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025

3.    Undertake ambitious actions to ensure that at least 50% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted by 2025

4.    Ensure an average of at least 30% recycled content across all plastic packaging (by weight) by 2025.

These are ambitious goals, but action is already happening among international businesses. The latest Global Commitment Progress Report shows that after decades of growth, the use of virgin plastic (i.e plastic that has not yet been used) appears to have peaked for Global Commitment brands and retailers.

Many challenges remain. Progress has largely been driven by recycling, but that is not enough to solve plastic pollution. We need urgent action to eliminate single-use packaging.

We also need a legally binding, global agreement to level the playing field so that all businesses and governments can play their part. A large number of businesses and countries are supportive of a UN treaty on plastic pollution.

Everyone has a vital role to play in solving the plastic problem. Businesses, public organizations and citizens are all encouraged to be inspired by the Roadmap and find their way of contributing to this shared action plan. Where will you start?

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