Global Commitment 2021 Progress Report shows use of virgin plastic has peaked for signatories

Cowes, United Kingdom

Third annual report demonstrates clear progress from brands and retailers on reducing virgin plastic use, but more effort is needed to reduce the need for single-use packaging in the first place.

Three years after launching the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, the Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme published today the Global Commitment 2021 Progress Report, showing how businesses accounting for 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally, have progressed towards their 2025 targets to create a circular economy for plastics.

Global Commitment brands and retailers have collectively reduced their consumption of virgin plastic in packaging for the second year running, according to the data. This trajectory will be accelerated by new commitments that are set to see virgin plastic use fall by almost 20% in absolute terms by 2025 compared to 2018. Setting a reduction target has become mandatory for all the Global Commitment’s 63 brand and retail signatories in 2021. When combined with the impact of existing commitments, it is estimated that raising ambitions to this level will avoid 8 million tonnes of virgin plastic from being produced each year by 2025. That is equivalent to keeping 40 million barrels of oil in the ground.

While this virgin plastic reduction is a welcome trend, current and planned progress is driven largely by switching from virgin plastic to recycled plastic. This is just one part of the solution, but does not address the total amount of plastic packaging on the market. There is very little evidence of ambitious efforts to reduce the need for single-use packaging in the first place. Less than 2% of signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, and for more than half of all signatories, this is 0%. Much more focus must urgently go to eliminating single-use packaging.

“We won't recycle our way out of plastic pollution, eliminating single-use packaging is a vital part of the solution. Alarmingly, our report shows little investment in this. We need much more urgent focus on upstream innovation to rethink how to deliver products without packaging or by using reusable packaging. This doesn’t just allow us to design out waste, it also means we can design out carbon emissions whilst creating new opportunities for business. Shifting just 20% of plastic packaging from single-use to reuse is an opportunity estimated to be worth USD 10 billion.”

- Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder & Chair of Trustees, Ellen MacArthur Foundation 

Voluntary initiatives like the Global Commitment have begun to deliver change, but voluntary initiatives alone will not be enough. Global Commitment signatories are responsible for just over 20% of global plastics packaging. We need a coordinated global response so the entire industry and all governments move at the necessary scale and pace.

There is unprecedented momentum behind a global agreement on plastic pollution. Over 80 leading businesses and 119 national governments have called for a global agreement to tackle plastic pollution, and more than 2 million people have signed a public petition in support. UNEA 5.2 in February 2022 is the crucial moment, when governments will decide on next steps, including whether to start an intergovernmental negotiation for a global agreement.

"The Global Commitment is showing us that concerted voluntary action by actors across the value chain, including governments, can begin to shift the needle in the fight against plastic pollution. The efforts from all signatories in reporting their progress transparently and with agreed metrics is truly commendable, and a great example to learn from. The frontrunners are also demonstrating that we can decouple the benefits we derive from plastic from the consumption of virgin plastic, and this is groundbreaking. But the action from these frontrunners can be boosted by a comprehensive, inclusive and global approach.”

- Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP


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