​​Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Recycling and reuse targets are 'unlikely to be met'

A new Global Commitment 2022 Progress Report, published by the ​​Ellen MacArthur Foundation, examines the progress made by the Global Commitment and Plastic Pact network towards achieving its 2025 targets.

Black plastic packagingThe Global Commitment and Plastic Pact network consists of 1,000 businesses, governments and other organisations – united by a shared aim of tackling plastic pollution through developing a circular economy for plastic. Signatories of the Global Commitment, together accounting for more than 20 per cent of the plastic packaging market, set the targets for 2025.

In the report, 130 businesses that produce, use and recycle large volumes of plastic packaging and 17 governments across five continents have reported on their progress towards meeting circular economy targets.

The report has three key findings:

1. While strong progress is being made in some areas, key 2025 targets are expected to be missed. Currently, the report says the target of 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging ‘will almost certainly be missed by most organisations, with flexible packaging and lack of infrastructure being the main barrier’.

Although for the third year in a row the share of reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging has increased slightly – to 65.4 per cent – 16 per cent of signatories still handle flexible packaging (for example, sachets and films). The report labels this type of packaging as a significant issue in meeting targets.

Despite this, signatories’ share of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content has doubled from 4.8 per cent in 2017 to 10 per cent in 2021 – the report highlights that PCR content has therefore increased as much during the past three years ‘as it did in all preceding years since plastic packaging was first introduced’.

A majority of signatories were found to be decreasing virgin plastic use, yet the collective virgin plastic use of the entire group has risen back to 2018 levels – a 2.5 per cent increase. The report also identifies that reuse ambitions ‘remain limited’ as very few brands and retailers have reuse strategies in place.

2. The report highlights that further plans are needed to accelerate progress in meeting targets. Notably that companies need to focus on reuse and strategies to end the use of flexible plastics and virgin plastic. It also highlights the need for new innovation, infrastructure and investment into redesigning rigid plastic to ensure 100 per cent recyclability.

3. In 2022, 34 additional groups and governments – which collectively represent 1 billion people – joined the Global Commitment. Despite this, the Foundation notes that significant policy change is needed to drive efforts to reduce plastic use. Policy needs to overtly support the move towards a circular economy.

The report also highlight the significance of the upcoming UN Plastic Treaty negotiations. It identifies the talks as a ‘unique opportunity’ to set a ‘clear direction’ in the efforts against plastic pollution. The Ellen MacArthur foundation previously warned that current initiatives, the Global Commitment included, do not do enough to address plastic pollution and encouraged the establishment of a UN-driven plastic treaty. Talks for such a treaty begin at the end of this month in Uruguay and the UK has begun internal talks with stakeholders to determine its position.