Global consumer brands and retailers leading a major voluntary initiative to cut plastic pollution are now pushing legally binding measures like a plastics treaty, arguing that efforts to tackle plastic waste are "far off track" and that too many companies are not doing enough.
The voluntary effort, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Global Commitment, on Oct. 31 will release a progress report pointing to actions its members like Coca-Cola and Unilever have taken, such as using more recycled plastic and flattening out or cutting back on the use of virgin resin.
The report walked a fine line between hailing that progress, acknowledging that the EMF initiative is unlikely to meet key 2025 goals and arguing that more robust measures like the plastics treaty are needed for the world to make more progress.
A big problem, it said, is that its members — who collectively put about 20 percent of the world's plastic packaging on the market — are doing more and shouldering more of the burden than the other 80 percent.
A treaty could help level that, companies and EMF officials said. Their call comes as the third of five rounds of treaty talks starts at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme in Kenya Nov. 13.
"There's 20 percent of packaging and plastic represented in the EMF commitment, but 20 percent is not enough to stop plastic pollution," said Allison Lin, global vice president of packaging sustainability at Mars Inc., a member of the EMF initiative, speaking on a recent U.N.-sponsored webinar to build support for the treaty.
"We need mandatory requirements for the rest of the 80 percent to join us so it's not 20 percent bearing the burden, the financial burden for the remaining companies," Lin said.
As one example of how current systems aren't working, EMF projected that 20 trillion pieces of flexible packaging like pouches and sachets will end up in the ocean by 2040 without ambitious policy and regulatory measures, combined with company actions.
"The learnings from the Global Commitment over the past five years have shown it's possible to make meaningful progress towards keeping fossil resources in the ground and plastics out of the ocean," said Sander Defruyt, plastics initiative lead at EMF, in a statement.
"But the world remains far off track from fixing the plastic pollution crisis," he said. "The international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution currently being negotiated, alongside accelerated business action, are now needed … both are crucial to ensure progress is pushed further and faster."