Dow aims to not only provide more sustainable products, but to share our expertise to support people and our planet’s wellbeing. For that expertise to reach its highest potential, it must be backed by international cooperation at every level.
We are entering a period of transformational change in how we make, use and reuse materials. With material innovations that were unimaginable even a few decades ago, as well as an incomparable understanding of the planet and scale of our consumption, we have everything we need to build a circular economy. Yet, we face a barrier that holds us back from utilizing our full potential to close the loop: worldwide standardization and alignment on plastics.
A global treaty for plastics emerged as the trending theme in the World Circular Economy Forum’s panel “Corporate Plastic Stewardship: The Need for Monitoring and Disclosure,” which I was lucky enough to join in September. Sitting down with Sarah Perreard, Senior Consultant at Quantis; alongside John Duncan, Global Lead for the No Plastic in Nature initiative at the World Wildlife Fund; and Jodie Roussell, Nestlé’s Senior Public Affairs Manager, we held a small-scale version of the kind of conversation that policy makers and business leaders need to have at a global scale.
The barriers we face to stopping the waste
One of the biggest barriers we face in transitioning to a circular economy is the lack of standardized metrics for measuring and reporting plastic use and waste across the board, and the fact that the multitude of individual initiatives lack the scale needed to drive change across the entire system. For example, the US alone has more than 40,000 recycling programs, creating a sizable barrier for circularity in the form of inconsistent infrastructure.
Today, even questions as simple as what counts as waste, or what qualifies a product as truly “recycled,” remain unstandardized across industries, nations and states. Until we all work within the same framework with the same understanding of the problem, we can’t solve for closing the loop and stopping the waste.
Standardized metrics for measurements are also important to increase transparency in government and corporate disclosure. To drive meaningful action on plastics requires an unobstructed view of the entire system of use, waste and reuse. This kind of reporting shows us where resources and attention should be given, and makes clear which solutions are working and which are not. Combined with the flexibility to implement solutions in ways that are appropriate to the regions where they are being offered, we can achieve transformational change around the world.
Stronger together: Joining industry know-how with government regulations
As representatives of two multinational businesses devoted to scaling our organization’s sustainability efforts, Jodie Roussell and I shared in the understanding that the industry cannot win this battle alone — we must have government support and inertia behind us.
While many governments have passed laws and regulations to limit waste and expand circularity, the lack of standardized language and metrics limits the global impact of these actions. The proposal of a UN treaty to end plastic waste, which will likely be introduced at the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022, represents a clear way to address these issues. The proposal is backed by plastic producers all over the world, which have joined together and laid out a list of five key parameters. The implementation of a global, standardized framework of this kind will clear the way for more impactful action, allowing us to continue to maintain quality of life while eliminating the critical issue of waste.
At Dow, we are wholeheartedly behind this proposal. Our CEO, Jim Fitterling, joined LyondellBasell CEO Bob Patel in expressing his support for a UN treaty in a recent Wall Street Journal special event, “Getting There: A Global Agreement to End Plastic Waste.” We understand that plastic waste is a global issue, and therefore requires global solutions. Companies and governments can no longer limit their focus to in-house or localized solutions but must work to change the way the entire global system operates.
The case for collaboration
The need for coordinated international cooperation in the face of crisis has been made abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the health and economic devastation of the pandemic, it has also had ripple effects on pollution and waste around the globe as we continue to rely on single-use plastics, and recycling services have been temporarily suspended in many locations.
Dow aims to be a sustainability leader not only by providing more sustainable products, but also by sharing our expertise to support people and our planet’s wellbeing. For that expertise and success to reach its highest potential, it must be backed by international cooperation at every level. A more sustainable, circular world is the one that will unlock the highest-possible quality of life. We all have a stake in this fight.