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Sustainable Living Q1 2023

Embrace reuse consumption for modern times and reduce plastic pollution

iStock / Getty Images Plus / elenabs

Sheila Aggarwal-Khan

Director, Industry and Economy Division, UNEP

Contribution from Zara Ingilizian, Head of Consumer Industries and the
Future of Consumption Platform, World Economic Forum

The proliferation of plastic pollution is harming our planet, people and economies. Half of global plastic production is for single-use, and in a business-as-usual scenario, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. 

Currently, 14% of plastics globally are collected for recycling, with only 2% considered closed-loop recycling. Production of plastic also generated 3.4% of greenhouse gas emissions. According to a survey from Ipsos, three-quarters of people worldwide believe that single-use plastic products should be banned as soon as possible. 

How to reduce plastic waste 

Recycling alone will not solve the plastic pollution crisis. Reuse systems, in which consumer packaged goods are designed to be used multiple times before eventually exiting the stream of commerce, need to be embraced again and adapted to modern ways of life.  

Reuse needs to become the more desirable, convenient and affordable option for consumers. And these reusables must also be designed to be recyclable. “By shifting 10% of plastic products to reusable systems, the equivalent of half of annual plastic ocean waste can be prevented

Companies setting an example 

A flourishing innovation ecosystem is already underway, with startups and large industry actors advancing new solutions.  

Algramo, a Chilean reuse startup, already operates in over 2,000 family-owned stores. Its refill-on-the-go system in Santiago has proven successful even during the Covid-19 lockdown: sales increased by 356% between April and June 2020.  

Unilever is partnering with Algramo on a mobile dispensing system that offers refillable products to consumers, and it is working with Indonesian packaging-free store Saruga to launch refill stations for their home and personal care brands.  

The equivalent of half of annual plastic
ocean waste can be prevented.

Role of consumers, businesses and governments 

While businesses and governments control the design of the system and safety standards, ultimately the consumer — as the end user of the packaging — can accelerate the interest for businesses to innovate on reusable design. 

At the Climate Conference in Glasgow in 2021, India announced a new campaign ‘Lifestyles for Environment (LiFE).’ With leadership coming from the Indian G20 presidency, LiFE is coming front and centre as a key issue – putting lifestyles and demand-side changes at the top of the agenda.  

The public and private sectors must create the enabling environment crucial to ensure consumer adoption and accelerate a shift toward reuse models at scale. As such, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Consumers Beyond Waste’ initiative convenes a vibrant community of leading organisations across business, civil society and government; and The United Nations negotiations to develop an international agreement on plastic pollution offer a historic opportunity to support the expansion of reuse systems fit for the modern day.  

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