According to Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s new Global Commitment Progress Report, the global use of “virgin plastic” (plastic resin that is newly created without any recycled materials) has peaked and is expected to fall significantly by 2025, due to the rise in recycled packaging.
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is a UK-based charity that promotes a focus on “circular economy,” where material resources such as plastic are recycled and kept in use for as long as possible. According to the Foundation’s most recent report, committed brands and retailers all over the globe, including Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars, and L’Oréal, have reduced their collective virgin plastic by 1.2 percent between 2019 and 2020, following a 0.6 percent reduction between 2019 and 2019.
“If you put it in a historical perspective, virgin plastic use for this industry has been going up quite rapidly for decades,” said Sander Defruyt, the leader of the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.
“Some of the largest brands and retailers in the world are showing [that virgin plastic reduction] can be done and that business growth can be decoupled from virgin plastic use.”
Progress on virgin plastic reduction has been driven by the growing use of recycled content in packaging. However, since discarded packaging still exists, this change is not yet enough to solve plastic pollution. Moreover, less than two percent of Global Commitment signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, and over half of the signatories reported zero percent reusable plastic packaging.
While a company such as Unilever, for example, increased recycled content by 11 percent in 2020 and is on the track to reach its 25 percent target by 2025, other retailers such as Mars reported no recycled plastic packaging in 2020, despite a target of 30 percent reduction by 2025.
One of the current leaders in virgin plastic reduction is Coca Cola, which had 11.5 percent recycled content in 2020, up from four percent in 2019 and two percent in 2018.
“We appreciate the leadership of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in driving more consistent goal-setting and reporting on circular economy,” said a Coca Cola spokesperson.
“While we are proud of the progress we have made since we launched the World Without Waste program in 2018, there is more work we can do, and we look forward to engaging with outside stakeholders to take our work to the next level.”
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation hopes that if other large retailers will follow, an overall decrease of virgin plastic use by 19 percent could be expected by 2025.