UN and EMF publish plastic waste and pollution guidance for investors

The United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) have published new guidance for investors on how to engage with companies on plastic waste and pollution.

Collaborating with the EMF, the Investor Engagement Guides set out how investors can address the challenge of plastic waste and pollution by engaging with companies across the plastics value chain, and assessing their circular economy performance.

A collection of assorted plastic bottlesThe guides follow the PRI’s 2019 Plastics Landscape Series, a research project consisting of three reports and an online interactive data tool.

Focusing on four key sectors across the plastics value chain, the guides cover petrochemicals, containers and packaging producers, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), and waste management.

By engaging with large users, producers, and recyclers of plastic packaging and asking them to take action on their portfolio, the EMF says, investors have an opportunity to address plastic waste and pollution.

The guides use the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment as a framework, aiming to increase the pressure on businesses to adopt circular economy principles, set ambitious time-bound targets, and report transparently on progress towards a circular economy for plastic.

Led by the EMF in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, the New Plastics Global Commitment commits governments, businesses, and other organisations to the elimination of all problematic and unnecessary plastic items, the innovation of plastics to ensure reusability, recyclability, and compostability, and the retention of all plastic items within the circular economy.

The guides highlight the need for investors to encourage companies to adopt the New Plastics Global Commitment by 2025, as well as understanding the risks associated with the plastics industry, such as those related to policy and regulation, reputation, human health, the environment, and the climate.

Addressing these risks and transitioning to a circular economy, says the EMF, will create investment opportunities, whilst reducing the impact of plastic packaging, meeting consumer needs, and contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Each guide includes a sector overview related to its use of or role in producing plastic packaging, waste, and pollution; engagement questions focused on governance, risk management and reporting, performance, and impact; a table to help investors understand company progress against the actions and outcomes required to address plastic waste and pollution, and examples of company best practice.

The EMF highlights actions that companies within the industry are expected to take by 2025, with all companies expected to make commitments to collaborate with other stakeholders to increase circular plastic behaviours, and report annually and publicly on their progress.

FMCG and container and packaging companies are required to eliminate problematic or unnecessary packaging, move from single-use to reusable packaging where relevant, ensure 100 per cent of packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and set post-consumer recycled content targets across all packaging.

Petrochemical companies are additionally expected to set targets to increase the use of recycled plastics. Waste management companies are urged to set targets to grow the volume and quality of recycled/composted plastics, as well as accordingly increasing the ratio of these materials over landfilled and incinerated plastic volumes.

The full guides can be found on the EMF website.