All of these companies will miss their commitment on plastic

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They are dozens to have signed to commit. With the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, many of the largest (and polluting) companies on the planet have set targets for reducing the use of plastic and the democratization of recycled plastic, which should lead them to make big efforts before 2025, their maturity. But today, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Program sounded the alarm. Several multinationals are missing their bet, in all discretion.

The study is particularly alarming and Greenpeace commented on it when it was published, this Wednesday, November 2, 2022. For governments, it will be a starting point to set the tone for the next UN negotiations in Uruguay, which must lead to a new global treaty on plastic, but also to COP27 in Egypt. Some companies are in a very complicated situation, where their consumption of virgin plastic has not decreased, but increased, without the use of recycled plastic being considered. The worst students are mentioned in the study“proof that voluntary corporate targets have failed”.

Coca-Cola, one of the worst students, sponsors the COP27

Widely singled out, Walmart, Pepsi and Coca-Cola have increased their consumption of virgin plastic (non-recycled plastic made from petroleum) by 3.5%, 4.5% and 3.4% respectively since 2019. Yet they are among those who have committed to switching to 100% reusable, recycled plastic or compostable by 2025. The goal is approaching and they will certainly not meet it. “We still haven’t seen a credible roadmap”, regretted Sander Defruyt of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The main finding is that these companies have absolutely not invested in adequate solutions to make their use of plastic sustainable.

“This is another failure of Coca-Cola to deliver on its promises”, added Georgia Elliott-Smith, the general manager of the consulting firm in sustainable development Element Four. Very lifted, she threw a petition while the COP27 was going to count among its sponsors the North American brand of soda with a catastrophic balance sheet and non-existent efforts. More than 250,000 people have since signed the document. “They are trying to green the brand, but “for over 30 years they have left a trail of missed goals and abandoned engagements”she added.

For others, plastic consumption has not increased but efforts are slow and difficult. The foundation’s study cited the Mars, Unilever, Danone and Nestlé brands in particular. “We see a lot of well-intentioned efforts from individual companies or organizations, but they’re not necessarily all going in the same direction or collaborating to make it work at scale”, added Sander Defruyt. In figures, this means that the use of recycled plastics has seen its shares double over the last three years (from 5 to 10%), but that reusable plastic has seen its shares fall at the same time, to 1.2%.

The finding is serious given that the worst students are also the fattest. The figures, on a global scale, would therefore be hampered by players who “distort the average”. To take a step aside and highlight the positive, the study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation informed that 59% of companies committed to the plastic objective for 2025 had actually reduced their consumption of virgin plastic since 2018.

Plastic Recycling Purpose

The use of recycled plastic compared to virgin plastic, an average distorted by the biggest companies which do not play the game © Unsplash / Sigmound

Volunteering is not enough

The Greenpeace association has called, for its part, for these companies to be much more regulated in order to be able to effectively put in place significant measures. The problem being that for many large groups, test phases would not have never led to global strategies. “This underscores the need for governments to ensure that the global plastics treaty delivers deep reductions in plastic production and use”said Graham Forbes, plastics project manager for Greenpeace in the United States.

“We can do much more on a voluntary basis, but at the same time, volunteering alone will not be enough. We are also going to need a policy. Governments must not just wait for the UN plastics treaty, they must also start taking action in the meantime”, added Sander Defruyt of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The intergovernmental negotiations organized by the UN in Uruguay are to be held from November 28 to December 2 next.

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