The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Lead
Plastic pollution is rapidly outpacing our efforts to stop it, we need to urgently change the way we make and use plastic globally to be able to solve this crisis.
It is obvious now that we are not going to recycle our way out of this problem and we cannot pull plastic out of the ocean at the rate we are putting it in. Instead of trying to work out how to deal with a pile of waste, we need to stop that waste being created in the first place.
A circular economy for plastics
To solve plastic pollution, in a way that also helps us address the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, we need a circular economy. For plastics, this means eliminating all the plastic items we don’t need, innovating to ensure the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable or compostable and circulating all the plastic we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.
To achieve this, we need to rethink the way we make and use plastic. This means channelling our innovation efforts upstream, to the design stage. This requires moving beyond incremental tweaks to single-use packaging and being prepared to rethink every part of the plastics system.
When it comes to circulating plastic at the end of its use, we need to make sure the infrastructure and funding is in place – this will require fair industry contributions in the form of extended producer responsibility.
There is growing momentum behind voluntary initiatives, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment and Plastics Pact network, through which more than 1,000 organisations have united behind a common vision and targets for a circular economy for plastic.
Instead of trying to work out how to deal with a pile of waste, we need to stop that waste being created in the first place.
Going beyond voluntary commitments
While voluntary initiatives have begun to deliver change among market leaders, we need an international binding approach to amplify current efforts and deliver the changes needed to end plastic pollution.
A global treaty on plastic pollution would complement and enhance existing voluntary action. By setting out global goals and binding targets, together with action plans and consistent measurement, it would provide the framework needed to urgently solve this crisis. A global treaty would harmonise policy efforts; enhance investment planning; stimulate innovation; and coordinate infrastructure development.
A new treaty to address plastic pollution
Many leading businesses and 79 national governments have called for a UN treaty to tackle plastic pollution and more than 2 million people have signed a public petition. They are urging the member states of the United Nations to agree to start negotiations towards a global treaty at UNEA 5.2 in February 2022. There is no time to waste.