Major consumer goods makers and retailers, including Unilever and Ikea, signed on to the G7 economic bloc's plastic charter targeting waste and ocean pollution at a Sept. 20 summit, as some business executives called for dramatically cutting back on single-use plastics.
Unilever CEO Paul Polman, for example, said the consumer products industry could reduce its plastics use by 30 percent with better design.
Speaking at a forum of G7 environment ministers meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he told the government leaders that "consumer goods industries are starting to challenge really the use of single-use plastics."
"I think the whole industry can reduce its plastics by 30 or 40 percent, just with technologies that are available," Polman said. "Reuse or recycling alone is not enough."
Other companies endorsed the charter in Halifax, including Coca Cola Co., Ikea, Walmart Stores Inc., Dow Chemical Co. and BASF Canada. The non-binding charter had been signed in June by top leaders of five of the seven countries in the economic bloc during a summit in Quebec.
As a followup, G7 environment ministers met in Nova Scotia Sept. 18-20 to flesh out more details.
Governments announced some new commitments, among them Canada — which pledged $65 million — and Norway, which announced an investment fund. Both countries targeted the funds to combat plastic pollution in developing countries.
Business executives also talked about working with their supply chains to rethink use of plastics.
"Single-use plastic items pollute ecosystems such as oceans and waterways and harm wildlife if not disposed of responsibly," said Marsha Smith, president of Ikea Canada. "This is a complex problem with no single solution."
She noted in an address to the ministers that Ikea has previously announced it would eliminate single-use plastic products from home furnishings by 2020, and phase out virgin plastics in Ikea products by 2030. Smith framed it as moving toward more environmental business models.
"Our relentless pursuit of economic growth in the post war period combined with the externalization of environmental costs from balance sheets has resulted in rapid degradation of the natural environment," she said.
Polman said Unilever is working with other companies to unveil plastic pollution commitments that go beyond the G7 charter at the upcoming Oceans Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in late October. He said the group has about 60 companies signed up and hopes to have about 500.
"I hope that soon we will be able to discuss more aggressive commitments," he said. "No question that that goes well beyond the Ocean Plastics Charter. I think [G7] just put a stake in the ground that is the minimum that the whole world should adhere to."