Published 1 year ago.
About a 7 minute read.
Image: Pley Beauty
Plastic neutrality is achieved when an individual or organization’s plastic footprint is measured and balanced by the removal and recovery of plastic waste from nature, and complemented by reductions in plastic use.
The state of being plastic neutral means having a net-zero plastic
footprint, for a defined period of time. This should be achieved through
ambitious commitments and progress on reducing virgin plastic use — reducing the
size of a plastic footprint as far as possible. Any remaining plastic use can be
balanced through the funding of plastic-recovery
This contributes to the widely held goal of ending plastic pollution in nature.
Inspired by carbon credits and carbon neutrality, the market for plastic
is emerging to support organizations to go plastic neutral. Plastic credits
contribute to the reduction of plastic pollution by financing infrastructure
where it is most needed; incentivizing the collection of plastic waste that
would otherwise have been left to pollute the environment; and driving a
circular economy by increasing recovery and recycling rates of various plastics.
They have therefore gained currency in sustainability circles in the last year
or so as a leading circular economy innovation.
Anyone can go plastic neutral. An individual could fund plastic recovery to
neutralize their personal footprint for a period of time. A workplace or entire
organization could do the same — albeit probably with more sophisticated
footprinting efforts required. Even a one-off event’s footprint can be
calculated and balanced by funding plastic recovery.
With that said, plastic neutrality is most associated with brands or consumer
products. Uptake of the concept is spreading rapidly amongst challenger brands
in North America and Europe, with Plastic
and similar certifications already visible on thousands of products around the
world. Plastic neutrality is being embraced as a way of taking action on plastic
by brands across sectors including beauty and
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A key driver of the decision to go plastic neutral is that brands are
increasingly conscious of their responsibility to the planet. Pley
Beauty™, a clean beauty line that launched this
year, is an example of this. As Pley founder Peyton
"We took every step possible to first reduce plastic from our brand; and nearly
all of Pley Beauty™ packaging is made from recycled materials. We wanted to
ensure we were doing as much as possible to help the environment.”
Another reason for choosing to go plastic neutral is that brands are
increasingly under pressure from customers to increase
Driven by public demand, taking plastic action has risen to the top of the
agenda — joining other issues such as meeting net-zero carbon
Going plastic neutral means brands can take immediate responsibility for their
footprint and show consumers they are taking action.
Indeed, plastic neutrality may be particularly appealing to environmentally
aware brands that have not found satisfactory alternatives to plastic packaging.
This is part of the reason why sectors such as personal care and food and
are well-represented amongst plastic-neutral brands, as alternative
(non-plastic) packaging for products containing liquids or moisture are often
not yet deemed viable.
People, brands or products that go plastic neutral incentivize the collection
and recovery of nature-bound plastic. Plastic credit
also goes towards the development of plastic recovery and recycling
infrastructure. Numerous projects have been set up or scaled up around the world
to collect and recover nature-bound (particularly
plastic, and these projects provide an economic lifeline to waste
Furthermore, plastic neutrality is driving a circular economy by increasing the
recovery and recycling rates of various plastics. Efforts by businesses to make
and regulations such as the UK Plastic Packaging
resulted in an increased demand for recycled plastic. Supply, on the other hand,
continues to be constrained by poor recycling rates and lack of recycling
Development of infrastructure and increased recycling of plastic
on behalf of plastic-neutral brands is therefore supporting the transition
There are three steps required for brands (or individuals) going Plastic
Measure your plastic footprint.
Reduce plastic use, and commit to further reductions.
Balance your plastic footprint by funding action that recovers as much
additional plastic as is being used.
A number of organizations — including rePurpose
Collective and Plastic
Bank — are offering ‘Plastic Neutral’ (and ‘Plastic
Negative’) certifications. Many of the same organizations do this alongside
running plastic collection and recovery operations in parts of the world where
plastic waste is most at risk of polluting the environment or leaking into
Let’s see what these three core elements look like for a brand seeking
The first step is to establish an accurate plastic
Leading certifying organizations will have an easy-to-use, proprietary
assessment tool to calculate plastic footprints. They may also provide
expert support to make this process easier for brands.
The footprint calculation usually includes measurement of plastic used in
products and packaging, as well as any other plastics used downstream of the
manufacturing process. For a brand to be plastic neutral, plastic from the
company’s own operations and workplace-related plastic are also included.
Leading providers are currently developing methodologies to calculate other
plastic waste that falls outside of this
(for example, plastics used downstream in distribution processes) where there
are parallels with Scope 3 carbon emissions.
With the plastic footprint assessment complete, the brand is supported to make
commitments to plastic waste reduction — if they have not done so already —
such as plastic-reduction strategies, sourcing alternative materials and
Environmentally driven certifying organizations will only certify companies as
plastic neutral if they are committed to making, tracking and achieving
plastic-reduction commitments. Clear and ambitious reduction commitments are
important to avoid plastic-neutral certifications being perceived as a license
to continue polluting.
The brand funds the removal and recovery of ‘additional’ plastic waste from
nature — to balance their plastic footprint. Plastic waste collection and
recovery projects are usually located in plastic waste
in places such as
The Philippines, Ghana and Kenya.
The collected waste is then processed, and the leading providers in the market
will ensure that each material goes to the best circular or end-of-life
destination. For example, rePurpose Global’s publicly available Plastic Credit
ensures that anything collected from its impact projects that can be recycled
will be recycled — with all other waste taken to the most environmentally
sustainable end-of-life destination available.
It is clear that reductions in plastic manufacturing and use are central to
creating a world free from plastic pollution. Like carbon neutrality, plastic
neutrality must be paired with reduction commitments in order to tackle the
crisis holistically. Simultaneously, we need to keep funding innovative
substitutes for plastics, expand waste-collection infrastructure, improve
recycling practices, and ensure that disposal facilities prevent plastic
Nevertheless, plastic neutrality has shown its potential to be far more than
just a band-aid. Plastic neutrality, when done well, can fund critical
infrastructure and action that cleans up plastic waste and reduces pollution of
natural ecosystems. It can help to drive a circular economy and create
dignified work and income streams for thousands of waste
For brands that care about their impact on the planet, plastic neutrality
therefore provides an opportunity to contribute to these solutions — and,
ultimately, the reduction of plastic waste in nature — while also providing an
immediate way to take responsibility for the plastic they are using.
If this article has inspired you to pursue plastic neutrality for your brand,
read more here.
Published Jul 11, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST