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Race to 2025: New Plastics Economy Update

By November 26, 2020December 10th, 20204 Comments

To outpace with the growing problem of ocean plastic pollution, the need for companies to accelerate towards their plastic packaging targets is more important than ever, yet tangible progress varies.

Earlier this month, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published their much anticipated second New Plastics Economy Global Commitment progress report, accompanied by a virtual launch hosted by the Financial Times. The report put a spotlight on how far companies have come in achieving their 2025 plastic packaging targets, including recycled plastic content. Supporting businesses to achieve their recycled plastic content targets by supplying recycled plastic from coastlines most at risk of ocean plastic pollution is a key offering of the Prevented Ocean Plastic programme.

The new report illustrates that while some progress has been made, achievements varied significantly between companies. With 2025 just around the corner and ocean plastic pollution a mounting problem, companies cannot afford to be complacent.

“We must circulate everything we use, making sure the plastic we produce stays in the economy and never becomes waste or pollution.”

Sir David Attenborough

Progress varies between companies

Overall, the report demonstrates that there has been a 22% increase in the use of recycled plastic, equivalent to a 1.1 million tonne annual reduction of virgin plastic consumption by 2025. However, more progress is needed when it comes to the elimination of unnecessary packaging and design innovation. Sander Defruyt, New Plastics Economy lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation also urges companies to set more ambitious targets, which must be reflected through real life business actions and strategies. We previously reported on some of these underwhelming, or rather cautious, recycled plastic content targets and the importance of upholding them from a consumer perspective. Although some companies such as Danone have made significant progress and even doubled their recycled plastic content target from 25% to 50%, other FMCG companies continue to lag behind, having made no progress at all in this domain.

More government regulation is welcomed

While the need to accelerate was shared, panel members also shed light on why certain companies could be lagging behind. Aaron Hay from Hermes Investment Management notes that companies faced different challenges due to disparities across geographies, markets and plastic applications. Primarily referring to packaging companies, he suggests that innovation in the United States has been slow due to a lack of regulation.

“There is a clear differential in the innovation that is being brought to the European market in the packaging space versus what you might see in North America in terms of the big buyer demand, and that is driven by a history of much stronger regulation.”

While stricter regulations can be perceived as barriers to innovation, the sentiment appears to contradict this when it comes to tackling plastic pollution at scale. Although we previously highlighted that bans and taxes are welcome, it is still unclear how effective they are and the need for a global commitment, such as a UN Treaty remains. Katharina Stenholm from Danone calls for a ‘harmonisation of regulatory frameworks’, while Elisa Tonda from the UN Environment Program highlights that public procurement heavily influences the market, accounting for 12% of total GDP in OECD countries and up to 30% in developing countries.  Thus, although businesses are often called upon to implement change, governments will still need to play their part.

No signs of setback due to pandemic just yet

While it is too early to tell whether the pandemic has impacted on progress, DeFruyt reports that none of the signatories have reversed their targets – in fact some of them had actually increased them. He continues:

“The pandemic doesn’t change anything about the fact that we have a massive issue with plastic waste and pollution, and that issue won’t resolve itself.”

While we will have to wait until the next progress report to fully grasp the consequences of the pandemic on company progress, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for companies to achieve their plastic packaging targets. Hence, we can expect that some will experience more setbacks than others. However, the need to keep plastic out of our oceans remains as important as ever.

POP wants to hear from you!

What are your plastic packaging challenges? If you are a business wanting to increase recycled plastic content across your packaging lines and prevent ocean plastic, we’d love for you to contact us!

In the meantime, find out which companies have already made the commitment by making Prevented Ocean Plastic their preferred plastic packaging choice.