Nature and Biodiversity

Why it's time for a coordinated global approach to plastic pollution

We need to take urgent action to end plastic pollution.

We need to take urgent action to end plastic pollution. Image: Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

Mark Schneider
Chief Executive Officer, Nestlé
Antoine de Saint-Affrique
Chief Executive Officer, Danone
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Members of the United Nations are meeting to negotiate a plastic pollution treaty.
  • To have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement climate targets, a 3% reduction in the annual use of global virgin plastic from fossil fuels is required.
  • The CEOs of Nestlé and Danone call for everyone in the plastics supply chain to work together to end plastic pollution.

With the United Nations member governments negotiating on a plastics pollution treaty this week in Paris, the need for coordinated, consistent action across all private and public sector players globally has never been greater. Plastic use is growing worldwide and is projected to almost triple by 2060, due to rising populations and incomes. To have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement climate targets, a 3% reduction in the annual use of global virgin plastic from fossil fuels is required. Without rules at an international level, the current patchwork of regulations that define reduction strategies will be at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive. Our planet simply does not have the luxury of à-la-carte approaches. Neither do its inhabitants.

As business leaders, we have sought to address unnecessary uses of plastics in our own respective supply chains. We have worked to minimise virgin plastics and accelerate alternative delivery models. We are not able to eliminate plastics entirely, however. In those cases, we strive to only use plastics that can be incorporated into a circular economy – i.e. those that are reusable, recyclable or compostable. But voluntary action by individual companies and their leaders can only ever be one part of the solution. We have learned from experience that there are several crucial factors that must be considered in addressing plastics-related issues. In addition to our work on this topic, we need action across the supply chain, from plastic production companies, retailers, waste collection services and, ultimately, from consumers themselves.

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Cohesive regulation is required to tackle plastic pollution

To effect this change across the whole system, we need cohesive regulation. We need regulation that defines a global strategy on how to reduce virgin plastic production and use. Such a strategy should outline common criteria, or ways, to eliminate the use of plastics and to reuse the plastics that we cannot eradicate, including the definition of new delivery models.

We need regulation that describes how we will circulate all of the plastic pieces that cannot be eliminated, including norms for product design and recycling systems, as well as for extended producer responsibility programmes (EPR). Global regulation should provide common safety standards for recycled plastics and a shared approach for addressing the informal waste management sector. For too long waste management hasn’t been a priority and this gap has been filled by informal economy waste workers, who have stepped into the collection, sorting and trading of waste. Today, 20 million people’s livelihoods depend on the sorting, disposal and remediation of discarded plastic waste. These stakeholders must be taken into account to ensure that the transition to a circular economy is just and fair for those least responsible for the problem.

We need regulation that clearly states how we will prevent the leakage of the remaining plastics into the environment, including the requirements for scaling up infrastructure, for instance, for recycling.

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And, across all three of these facets, we need a common plan for how we will pay for all of this and for how governments and corporations should report on the type and quantity of plastics produced, including information on raw materials.

We have consistently supported UN actions requiring bold international action on urgent climate and environmental issues. As the member governments of the United Nations negotiate for a plastics pollution treaty, the circumstances are increasingly dire. We call on governments, not merely our corporate colleagues, to act boldly by immediately supporting binding international regulations on the full lifecycle of plastic. As a collective voice, we call on the world’s governments to create a robust treaty, with legally-binding global rules and measures, to drive circularity and curb plastic pollution on a global scale. It’s time that everyone, from governments to corporations, start playing by the same rules.

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