EMF sounds warning over reusable ambitions

Use of virgin plastic among some of the world’s biggest packaging users looks to have peaked, however more work needs to be done to eliminate single-use packaging altogether amid a dearth of innovation in reusables.

This was the key message from the latest progress report for the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which found brands and retailers representing 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally have collectively reduced their consumption of virgin plastic for the second year running. 

Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, the commitment is set to see virgin plastic use fall by almost 20% in absolute terms by 2025 compared to 2018.

When combined with the recycled content targets of plastic and packaging manufacturer signatories, it is estimated that 8 million fewer tonnes of virgin plastic will be produced each year by 2025.

The report found current and planned progress is driven largely by switching from virgin plastic to recycled plastic, however EMF said this did not address the total amount of plastic packaging on the market.

It found “very little evidence of ambitious efforts to reduce the need for single-use packaging in the first place” with less than 2% of signatories’ plastic packaging currently reusable, and for more than half of all signatories, the figure is 0%.

EMF called for an urgent focus to be placed on eliminating single-use packaging with Dame Ellen MacArthur warning “we won't recycle our way out of plastic pollution”.

MacArthur, who is founder and chair of trustees of the EMF, added that eliminating single-use packaging was a vital part of the solution. “Alarmingly, our report shows little investment in this. We need much more urgent focus on upstream innovation to rethink how to deliver products without packaging or by using reusable packaging,” she said.

Scotland postpones DRS

Deposit return schemes (DRS) are expected to be vital in ensuring there is sufficient recycled plastic to meet future demand, however on Wednesday the Scottish government confirmed there would be a further indefinite delay to the introduction of its DRS having already postponed its planned introduction by over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Campaigners reacted with frustration to a new delay that the Scottish government blamed on a combination of Brexit, the pandemic and a lack of clarity over the tax status of the 20p deposits. “Every year of delay means millions more bottles being dumped or burned. The deposit return scheme was a flagship environmental policy for the Scottish government, and they’ve kicked the can down the road yet again,” said Nina Schrank, senior plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

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