Peak performance

Peak performance

According to the new progress report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, virgin plastic use of all participating businesses is on track to peak this year. In 2025, the businesses will use 20% less virgin plastic than in 2018, provided that they deliver on their commitments.

The Foundation’s report is part of a move to create a “new normal” for plastic packaging. By eliminating single-use packaging materials, we can increase the amount of reused or recycled plastics in new products and innovate to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be reused, recycled, or composted by 2025.

The report notes that the majority of this reduction will be driven by companies replacing virgin plastic with recycled content. The report reveals good progress on eliminating some of the most common kinds of unnecessary and particularly problematic single-use materials and items, including carbon black plastics, PVC (92%) and single-use cutlery (94%).

While the signatories are on track to avoid the production of eight million tonnes of virgin, fossil-based plastics by 2025, the Foundation is urging brands to go further on using less plastics.

Particular concern was expressed about a lack of at-scale uptake of reuse and refill models. Only 5% of the brands participating are currently using refill or return models in some capacity. In comparison, 39% of signatories reported that they are substituting virgin plastic for recycled plastic in some cases, with that proportion rising to 41% for substitution with paper-based alternatives. More than half of Commitment signatories are using no reusable or refillable packaging at all.

“We need a much more urgent focus on upstream innovation to rethink how to deliver products without packaging or by using reusable packaging,” the authors of the report wrote. “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. Shifting just 20% of plastic packaging from single-use to reuse is an opportunity estimated to be worth $10bn.”

The report also calls on Commitment signatories to support the introduction of policy changes such as stronger extended producer responsibility (EPR) requirements and deposit return schemes.

Manufacturing with recycled material has its challenges – but as we all know challenges are rarely insurmountable. Thanks to consumer pressure and governmental change, consumer goods companies are rethinking packaging models to be less wasteful.

Plastics are extremely valuable materials; it is how we use them that is the issue. We need to change our behaviour to reduce waste, but it is worth remembering that we do need plastics. We just need to design these products carefully and avoid unnecessary packaging. As consumer behaviour changes, we will reach a point where we recycle materials that we use at home and the infrastructure to collect, separate and reprocess plastics into products that add value to the environment.

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