Launched in May 2016 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy is a cross-industry, CEO-led global initiative with the goal of unravelling systemic stalemates in recycling plastic and implementing an effective plastics packaging system.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos this month, a new action plan was put forward to increase reuse and recycling of plastic packaging to 70%. The report is endorsed by more than 40 industry leaders, with core partners including Coca-Cola, Danone, Mars and Unilever.
Specific actions to implement in 2017
Some of the priority actions under the New Plastics Economy plan include putting forward new design changes in plastic packaging to improve recycling quality by having manufacturers rethink their choice of materials, additives, and formats.
Another goal of the plan is to develop and deploy best practices for recycling collection and sorting systems, while adding recycling infrastructure where it is most needed.
“To shift towards the New Plastics Economy, the entire plastic value chain needs to be involved – from packaging designers at the beginning of the chain to recyclers at the end,” the report added.
Coca-Cola recycling pledge
In the report, Coca-Cola alongside companies like Unilever, Danone, Amcor, and Mars, has laid out a targeted plan for the New Plastics Economy Initiative to carry out in 2017.
“At Coca-Cola we’ve been a long-time proponent of circular thinking, particularly when it comes to packaging,” Bea Perez, chief sustainability officer at The Coca-Cola Company, said in the report.
Coca-Cola introduced refillable bottles 120 years ago and has continued to reshape its approach to sustainable packaging since then, Perez said.
“As market and consumer preferences shifted, so did we, offering recyclable PET bottles and then a fully recyclable PET bottle made partially from plants,” she said.
Coca-Cola is currently selling products in a 30% bioPET bottle, called Plant Bottle.
A Unilever study of 20,000 adults throughout five countries (UK, US, Brazil, Turkey, and India) found that one in three consumers choose brands based on its commitment to sustainability.
Current state of recycled packaging
While plastic packaging has many benefits and plays a significant role in the global economy, its typical linear value chain has major drawbacks, mainly environmental, according to the report.
The report stated that most packaging is used only once and 95% of its value, estimated at $80 to $120bn annually, is lost to the economy after its initial use.
“Without fundamental redesign and innovation, about 30% of plastic packaging will never be reused or recycled,” the report said.
However, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has not been the first to sound the alarm on the negative impacts of the current status of plastic packaging recycling.
In 2016 alone, policymakers introduced legislation worldwide relating to plastics and plastic packaging, including further national regulations on single-use plastic bags in Indonesia, Colombia and Morocco; a ban on non-biodegradable plastic cutlery, cups and plates in France; and a ban on EPS packing in San Francisco.
“It’s time for another change – a plastics system fully aligned with the circular economy. The market and environment demand it,” Perez said.