Updated — Ocean litter, recycling and more environmentally sustainable uses of plastics in general get significant attention in the Ocean Plastics Charter adopted June 9 by five of the G7 member nations.
The non-binding charter, signed by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union, suggests those governments want to see significant improvements in how plastic is used and how plastic waste is managed.
It includes a commitment to recycle and reuse at least 55 percent of plastics packaging by 2030, and recover all plastics by 2040, and as expected, calls for “significantly reducing” unnecessary uses of single-use plastics.
The document includes 23 specific points in five broad categories, and also suggests stronger government roles in supporting markets for recycled plastics, including increasing recycled content by at least 50 percent in plastic products by 2030.
“Plastics are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century and play an important role in our economy and daily lives,” the charter said. “However, the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health.”
The agreement was not signed by two G7 members, Japan and the United States. It's not clear why.
Many of the specific commitments spelled out in the document are more than a decade away, but if implemented could mark a sharp change in plastics use and the role of government in the industry.
The document, for example, calls for research to assess current plastics consumption by sector and look for areas to eliminate unnecessary uses, and strengthen labeling standards “to enable consumers to make sustainable decisions on plastics, including packaging.”
It also calls for accelerating international action and investments around marine waste, and encourages government procurement to “reduce waste and support secondary plastics markets and alternatives to plastic.”
It also said it was important to consider the environmental impact of any alternatives to plastics.
The Canadian plastics and chemical industries issued a joint statement June 10 that they supported the oceans and waterways focus of the charter and said there's growing recognition of the need for cooperation between the plastics industry, governments, brand owners and other businesses, NGOs and citizens to restore the health of oceans.
The Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Chemical Industry Association of Canada noted that on June 4 they committed to 100 percent of plastics packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and 100 percent of plastics packaging being reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040.
"Our members have committed to aggressive goals and to doing their part to improve the recycling and recovery of post-use plastics packaging," said Carol Hochu, president and CEO of CPIA. "We are very pleased to see a clear endorsement of the need for collaboration, a lifecycle approach to stewardship and incentives for innovation in the Charter."
In a June 11 statement, the American Chemistry Council said it was committed to being part of the solution to marine litter, and also noted the commitment its members have made to reuse, recycle and recover 100 percent of plastic packaging by 2040, with interim goals by 2030.
“We look forward to collaborating on a range of activities outlined in the Charter — including sustainable design, research, information sharing, and creative new ideas like the Plastics Innovation Challenge—in the months and years ahead.” said Steve Russell, ACC's vice president of plastics.
While environmental groups called for product bans and other laws to make the charter's plans reality, Russell suggested more emphasis on waste management.
“We believe investing in waste management systems will be critical to making real progress, and we appreciate Canada's leadership in pledging $100 million to jump start that effort,” he said. “In facing the challenge of marine litter there is much we can agree on, and even more we must act on, recognizing different approaches and priorities to getting there.”
Greenpeace issued a more critical statement after the charter was announced, saying that while a common blueprint is good news, voluntary charters are not enough.
“It's time for the world's largest economies to recognize that we cannot simply recycle our way out of this problem while we keep churning out so much throwaway plastic in the first place,” Greenpeace said. “Governments must move beyond voluntary agreements to legislate binding reduction targets and bans on single-use plastics, invest in new and reuse delivery models for products, and hold corporations accountable for the problem they have created.”
This story was updated June 11 with comment from the American Chemistry Council.