News

November 24, 2020

2025 Plastics Targets Need Faster Action by Business, Government

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation issued the second progress report on the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The 2020 update highlights efforts to incorporate recycled content into plastic packaging and phase out single-use plastic bags and straws. The authors call for an international framework on plastic pollution.

The 2020 progress report towards the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment finds that “much more must be done, and at greater speed” to tackle plastic pollution and achieve the 2025 targets of the Commitment. Although progress has been made on incorporating recycled content in plastic packaging and phasing out the most commonly identified items, like single-use plastic bags and straws, PS and PVC packaging, and undetectable carbon black pigments, there has been limited progress in other areas. Progress is limited on shifting towards reusable packaging and increasing the recyclability of plastic packaging. On eliminating the need for single-use packaging, efforts have focused on a small set of formats and materials, and substituting other plastics or paper rather than reducing the need for single-use packaging.

The report finds “substantial differences in progress between signatories” to the Commitment towards their 2025 targets on a circular economy for plastics. For example:

  • The Coca-Cola Company is 99% of the way towards achieving its 2025 packaging design target;
  • Of the signatories for packaged goods and retail, 31% have established targets to reduce virgin plastic in packaging or eliminate plastic packaging;
  • On reuse, 39% of signatories are testing and piloting models, including a few that reported large numbers of pilots: Natura Cosmetics (24), L’Oreal (22), Henkel AG & Co. KGaA (10) and Unilever (9); and
  • Other signatories have shown little to no progress on quantitative targets; the report states many businesses will need to accelerate their efforts to meet their 2025 targets.

The report concludes with four calls to action for businesses and governments. Businesses are urged to: take bold action on packaging types that are not recycled today, either decisively innovating away from them or developing and implementing a roadmap to make recycling work; and set ambitious reduction targets that recognize that “voluntary action by industry alone” will not be sufficient.

The authors call on governments to: set global direction and create an international framework for action through the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), building on the vision of a circular economy for plastics; and establish mechanisms and policies that provide dedicated, stable funding for collection and sorting, including through fair industry contributions, as recycling is “unlikely to ever scale” without such action.

The 2020 report uses 2019 data; the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not yet reflected in the numbers in the report. The report observes that the pandemic “has without doubt had an impact on the plastics system in 2020” and future reports are expected to report on this impact. The authors add that the pandemic presents an opportunity to address plastic pollution and climate change in recovery efforts.