Key insights

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After decades of growth, virgin plastic use appears to have peaked for Global Commitment brands and retailers and is set to fall faster by 2025

Progress has largely been driven by recycling, but that is not enough to solve plastic pollution – much more focus is urgently needed on eliminating single-use packaging

A large number of businesses and countries are supportive of a global agreement on plastic pollution, recognising voluntary initiatives alone will not be enough

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

Key insights

GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

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After decades of growth, virgin plastic use appears to have peaked for Global Commitment brands and retailers and is set to fall faster by 2025

Brands and retailers in the global commitment are already reducing their virgin plastic consumption.

  • Brands and retailers in the Global Commitment have now collectively reduced their virgin plastic consumption for the second year in a row, with a reduction of 1.2% between 2020 and 2019, following a 0.6% reduction between 2018 and 2019.

  • This follows decades of exponential growth in the industry’s consumption of virgin plastics, during which the global plastics market grew from around 2 million metric tonnes in 1950 to more than 300 million metric tonnes in 2015.

GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

KEY INSIGHTS

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With all these companies now setting absolute reduction targets, this trend is set to accelerate.

  • This downward trajectory is reinforced by new commitments to reduce total plastic or virgin plastic use in absolute terms by 2025, which has this year become a mandatory requirement to be a Global Commitment brand or retail signatory.

  • These targets are expected to lead to a total reduction in virgin plastic used by brand and retail signatories of around 19% between 2018 and 2025.

  • This sustained and significant fall would mark, for the first time, a decoupling of business growth from the consumption of virgin plastic among leading brand and retail companies.

  • By 2025, combined with the recycled content targets of plastic and packaging manufacturer signatories, this would avoid an estimated 8 million tonnes of virgin plastics from being produced each year – keeping 40 million barrels of oil in the ground annually. 

KEY INSIGHTS

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

Key insights

GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

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Progress has largely been driven by recycling, but that is not enough to solve plastic pollution – much more focus is urgently needed on eliminating single-use packaging

Progress on virgin plastic reduction has been largely driven by growing use of recycled content in packaging.

  • The reduction in virgin plastic delivered by Global Commitment signatories between 2018 and 2020 was largely driven by a strong increase in the use of recycled plastics, mainly in rigid PET packaging.

  • Brand and retail signatories substantially increased the post-consumer recycled content in their plastic packaging over this period – by 60%, from 5.2% to 8.2%.

  • Based on current reduction and recycled content targets of brand and retail signatories, around 80% of the planned 2025 virgin reduction seems to be driven by increasing recycled content.

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

But we see alarmingly little investment in efforts to reduce the need for single-use packaging...

  • Most current efforts to eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging involve substitution to other plastics or paper, not solutions that reduce the need for single-use packaging in the first place.

  • Less than 2% of Global Commitment signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, and more than half of all signatories report 0% reusable plastic packaging. While these changes take time, more concerning is that levels of ambition to explore and scale reuse appear very low. Just 11% of signatories launched more than three pilots in the last year, while 56% launched none at all.

  • Supporting policy measures on elimination are still largely limited to banning a narrow set of items, while only three government signatories have established targets on reuse affecting their whole jurisdiction.

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

...which is vital to continuing progress towards a circular economy for plastic.

  • We won't recycle or dispose our way out of plastic pollution. Demand for plastic packaging is predicted to double over the coming two decades. Future scenarios focused on collection, recycling and disposal alone have been shown to fall short, with high ocean leakage and GHG emissions.

  • To achieve a circular economy for plastic, substantially more effort must go into preventing waste from being created in the first place — using elimination and reuse solutions to curb growth in the total amount of packaging that needs to be circulated.

  • Upstream innovation offers opportunities to rethink how products can be delivered to users without the need for single-use packaging. 

KEY INSIGHTS

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

Key insights

GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

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A large number of businesses and countries are supportive of a global agreement on plastic pollution, recognising voluntary initiatives alone will not be enough

The right policies can create the conditions for global change.

  • Voluntary industry initiatives and actions by leading governments play a vital role in pioneering solutions and demonstrating what’s possible at scale. However, many stakeholders agree these efforts will never by themselves be enough to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.

  • 80% of the plastic packaging market is not captured by the Global Commitment, with most of those outside it unlikely to act at the scale and pace required to prevent plastic packaging and waste from being created in the first place, reduce virgin plastic, and tackle packaging not recyclable in practice and at scale.

  • Policymakers now have a significant opportunity to address these gaps by creating the enabling conditions both to support efforts by leading companies and to drive laggards to action.

     

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

2022 offers a unique opportunity to capitalise on momentum towards ambitious global action on plastics.

  • Around 80 leading companies from across the plastics value chain and investors have backed the call initiated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, WWF, and BCG for a binding UN treaty on plastics, recognising that voluntary initiatives alone will not be enough.

  • Furthermore, around 100 countries have explicitly expressed support for starting negotiations on a global agreement on plastics in 2022.

  • In February 2022, national governments will gather for the next session of the UN Environment Assembly. This is a unique opportunity to drive ambitious global action on plastics pollution that the international community must seize.

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

There is now broad industry support for EPR policy, that policymakers can build on.

  • 150+ organisations, including 100+ leading businesses, have now explicitly and publicly recognised that extended producer responsibility policy (EPR) is the only proven way to ensure sufficient funding for collection, sorting and recycling of packaging, and that without it recycling is unlikely to ever scale.

  • Governments can build on this strong and constructive signal from industry, to accelerate the implementation of EPR policy for packaging.

  • Eight out of nine national governments reporting to the Global Commitment have already indicated they have set or are planning to implement EPR policies by 2025. 

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GLOBAL COMMITMENT 2021 PROGRESS REPORT

GC Key Insights

By Yunus Tunak

GC Key Insights

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