Published 3 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: 3R Initiative
Since scientists first raised the alarm about plastic pollution in the environment, brands have been slow to respond. Will the 2020 Brand Audit and new plastic-stewardship guidelines help accelerate an overdue shift away from single-use plastic?
On December 3,
— a global coalition of organizations pushing brands to massively reduce
single-use plastic, released its 2020 Brand
— which crowdsources data on plastic waste around the world to pinpoint which
brands are responsible. The findings aren’t good — showing little progress by
major brands as compared to previous years, and no evidence of any reduction in
production of single-use plastic (not really a surprise, considering
But coalition members still expect brands to have led the charge on plastic
reduction, despite short-term setbacks.
“It’s not surprising to see the same big brands on the podium as the world’s top
plastic polluters for three years in a row,” said Abigail Aguilar, Plastics
Campaign Regional Coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, during a press
event. “To stop this mess and combat climate change, multinationals must end
their addiction to single-use plastic
and move away from fossil fuels.”
This is disappointing. It was way back in 2016 and 2017 that plastic pollution
as a global problem, followed by an array of
by major plastic-using brands to address this problem. Yet, today, we’re still
mostly on a business-as-usual trajectory,
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“A majority of these companies have made all kinds of commitments and statements
— saying they will, for example, increase recycled content — but ... there’s
been very little progress by companies to reduce plastic,”
#BreakFreeFromPlastic global coordinator said Von Hernandez during the
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which launched its New Plastics Economy
2018, agrees — stating bluntly in its most recent
that there has been “limited progress” on increasingly recyclability, reducing
the need for single-use packaging, or shifting towards reusable packaging. It is
clear that, so far, commitments and public statements haven’t yet led to
measurable, needed action. Too much plastic is still being produced and too much
is ending up in the
While many brands need to take responsibility for failing to ensure that their
products don’t end up as plastic pollution, others are dealing with real
challenges in measuring
Moreover, despite the broad range of commitments, there has been no framework
for compliance — nor any incentive system to promote good actions, or even
guidelines for reporting progress.
That will soon change. In early 2021, 3R Initiative, Quantis, EA and
South Pole will release the Corporate Plastic Stewardship
Guidelines, with a clear goal: to
translate commitments into measurable action.
“These guidelines will enable companies to validate and communicate leadership
efforts in measuring and reducing their plastic footprints, tackling plastic
pollution and transitioning towards a circular economy,” said Grace Blackham
— a program manager at BVRio, which is working with the 3R Initiative,
during a virtual
on Dec. 1.
The guidelines were developed jointly, through a broad public consultation
period, aiming to promote a circular economy for plastics and empower leaders
within large companies to better measure actionable steps.
The guidelines include standards for measuring a company’s plastic footprint
along their entire value chain, assessing recovery and leakage. It also allows
them to track how they are increasing the use of recycled and recyclable
materials in their
and measure investments in waste-aversion technologies in their operating
regions. Companies will even be able to make data-backed claims that they are
“net zero leakage” or “net circular plastic.”
There are even plastic credits, which companies can buy and sell — these are
aimed at driving additional income to plastic recycling co-operatives and local
communities that rely on manual waste collection.
“We’re developing a market-based approach that increases accountability for
plastic waste reduction efforts around the world and incentivizes new activities
that support the circular economy,” Blackham said.
The guidelines incorporate a waste hierarchy in which reusing waste and
eliminating plastic are considered optimal actions, compared to recycling and
collection. Collection, in fact, is only a viable action for companies selling
products in regions that lack effective waste-management
At the same time, the guidelines do not assume that reducing plastic is always
the best solution. Sometimes moving to an alternative packaging material can
have other environmental impacts, such as increased greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why it makes clear that science should be a key driver of those
decisions, through tools such as life cycle analysis.
“It's not that black and white, and not always the case that options to
eliminate plastic waste are better,” said Patrick Burgi, South Pole’s
co-founder & Director of Innovation, said during Tuesday’s event. “There are
trade-offs between different measures; and it’s important to use a science-based
approach to properly assess different measures before implementing them.”
The draft guidelines are out, and the final ones will be released in early 2021.
Then, brands can commit and begin to — in an open, collaborative and transparent
process — act towards meeting their plastic-reduction and recycling goals. This
is just the start, and there are hopes to turn the guidelines into something
“We would like eventually to turn the guidelines into a standard, which will
make them even more robust and will provide an extra layer of verification
validation,” Blackham added.
It’s been years since scientists first raised the alarm about plastic pollution
in the natural environment. Thus far, brands have been too slow to respond. With
the release of the 2020 Brand Audit and these guidelines, there’s no longer any
excuse to not shift away from single-use plastic and towards more sustainable
Published Dec 7, 2020 10am EST / 7am PST / 3pm GMT / 4pm CET
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.