A business approach to ending plastic pollution

A study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that humans ingest the equivalent of five grams of plastic or about the weight of a credit card in one week. Indeed, all the plastic waste improperly disposed of over the decades continues to leach microplastics that end up in our food ecosystem.

With this scientific discovery and people’s growing awareness of the damage plastics can cause to their health and the environment, companies are increasingly feeling the pressure to come up with a sustainable approach to using plastic. and start taking a more active part in the global fight against plastic pollution.

For now, some companies voluntarily launch programs to eliminate the use of plastics even if their competitors do not, and this usually happens when the business entity concerned has a strong brand presence that will not induce its consumer base to turn to another.

McDonald’s, for example, has eliminated polystyrene packaging and plastic utensils, even though other fast food chains offering burgers or chicken do not. The company believes that its customers will not change their loyalty even if they have to pay more for the food offerings.

Starbucks is another food retailer that has slowly changed its corporate policies in line with its commitment to reducing the use of plastic, especially the non-biodegradable type. It started with eliminating all plastic straws, a big deal for customers buying iced coffee or tea and smoothies. Somehow, he managed to make the transition.

Create a level playing field

Those who haven’t taken the plunge are waiting for a consensus among all members of the industry to recognize the dangers of using plastic and commit to a plan. For example, everyone now realizes that produce pouches are one of the biggest single-use plastic pollutants, but everyone should agree to stop its disposal, creating a level playing field.

Another way to do this, they say, is to get the government to pass laws that will force companies to reduce plastic use. Current bans on the use of plastic straws and sandbags are examples of this, but they must be strictly enforced at all levels and at all times.

A more drastic solution would be to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic carrier bags, PET bottles and straws. If these were not made available to the market, there would be less plastic waste generated. Studies show that these single-use plastics account for more than 50% of plastic pollutants found in the oceans.

The proposed solutions seem simple enough, except that they require an ironclad commitment from governments to wage an all-out war on plastics. Unfortunately, very few governments have been able to come up with comprehensive laws and regulations to address plastics and their pollution.

The company initiative

Faced with this apparent impasse, more than 70 companies and financial institutions signed a petition last January calling on the United Nations to come up with a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution. Some of the companies involved are Nestlé and The Coca-Cola Company, as well as BNP Paribas Asset Management.

The petition was an offshoot of an article published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in conjunction with WWF and the Boston Consulting Group in 2020, which exposed the growing plastic pollution crisis for the environment and businesses, and the need for the United Nations to write a treaty, much like the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The publication of the petition was timed around a month before the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi, Kenya, where nearly 200 representatives of member states were expected to meet to discuss and take action on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Among the highlights addressed in the petition was the need for a treaty that would keep plastics in the economy but out of the environment and prevent the production of plastics from fossil fuels. Additionally, the treaty must shape a shared approach by government, business and society to address the issue. Finally, the treaty should establish a governance structure for countries to enforce compliance.

Legally binding treaty by 2024

Last week, on March 2, representatives from 175 countries agreed to propose a legally binding treaty by the end of 2024 that will end plastic pollution. An Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) will be formed and should lead the discussions and provide a forum before the end of the year.

What is historic about the UNEA-5 agreement is the recognition that a total plastic ban will not be sustainable in today’s modern society, and instead pushes the concept of sustainable consumption and production, including circular economy approaches, in the development of national action plans. .

This would involve rethinking how plastics will be made in the future, as well as their use and disposal, so that they do not become pollutants on land, in the air and in our waters.

The task is gargantuan to say the least. Plastic production is now estimated at around 400 million metric tons per year and is expected to double by 2040. Encouraging countries to ban the single use of plastic will be a challenge in itself, but the UN stresses that we should all strive to achieve this goal. .

Failure to do so would endanger other human lives.

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Bryce K. Locke