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Big brands cutting virgin plastic use by 20%

Major brands signed up to Ellen MacArthur’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment are set to cut their use of virgin plastic by almost 20% by 2025, compared to 2018.

A reduction target is now mandatory for all of the Global Commitment’s 63 brand and retail signatories and progress since the commitment was launched in 2018 is charted in the latest annual progress report from the foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Global Commitment brands and retailers have collectively reduced their consumption of virgin plastic in packaging for the second year running, according to the data. This trajectory will be accelerated by the expected fall of nearly 20% in absolute terms by mid-decade.

According to the foundation, raising ambitions to this level will avoid eight million tonnes of virgin plastic from being produced each year by 2025, the equivalent to keeping 40 million barrels of oil in the ground. 

Current and planned progress is largely being driven by switching from virgin plastic to recycled plastic. ‘This is just one part of the solution but does not address the total amount of plastic packaging on the market,’ the report says.

‘There is very little evidence of ambitious efforts to reduce the need for single-use packaging in the first place. Less than 2% of signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, and for more than half of all signatories, this is 0%. Much more focus must urgently go to eliminating single-use packaging.’

It also acknowledges that voluntary agreements such as the Global Commitment cannot work on their own and is calling for a UN treaty on plastic pollution to  ensure the entire industry and all governments move at the necessary scale and pace.

MacArthur herself asserts that society will not recycle its way out of plastic pollution and eliminating single-use packaging is a vital part of the solution. ‘Alarmingly, our report shows little investment in this,’ she says.

‘We need much more urgent focus on upstream innovation to rethink how to deliver products without packaging or by using reusable packaging. This doesn’t just allow us to design out waste, it also means we can design out carbon emissions whilst creating new opportunities for business.’

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