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Accelerating reuse models to achieve a world free of plastic waste

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A selection of dried goods in bulk food dispensers in a plastic free store.

Half of global plastic production is for single-use and only 9% of plastic is recycled. Image: Getty Images

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  • The World Economic Forum’s Consumers Beyond Waste initiative is driving a shift towards reuse models to achieve a world free of plastic pollution.
  • Half of global plastic production is for single-use and only 9% of plastic is recycled; reliance on recycling alone will not solve the waste problem.
  • To accelerate reuse adoption, the initiative recently released a seminal guide to standardized measurement, enabling organizations to track progress in a consistent way.

The impact of sustainable shopping.

The World Economic Forum’s Consumers Beyond Waste initiative is working with partners to rapidly scale reuse models that will eliminate plastic waste.

Currently, half of global plastic production is for single-use and only 9% of plastic is recycled. Research shows that reusing just 10% of plastic products would reduce the amount of plastic waste reaching the ocean by 50%.

The initiative has been championing reuse since January 2019. It has brought together leading start-ups, consumer companies, nonprofits and governments to pave the way for responsible consumption and sustainable shopping models. These forward-thinking approaches have disrupted major industries such as food, beverage, and personal and home care.

Initially, this work focused on amplifying the efforts of innovators such as Loop and Algramo when reuse models were still developing. Loop, which activates a circular ecosystem, making the sale and collection of reusable and returnable versions of conventional single-use products effortless, has now expanded globally and collaborates with leading companies, including Aeon, Kroger, Tesco and Walgreens.

Algramo enables consumers to refill products such as dry foods, liquid detergents and personal care products in reusable containers at special dispensing stations. In 2021, Algramo reused over 230,000 plastic packages, equivalent to over 30 tonnes of plastic. These pioneering start-ups have raised the collective ambition to reduce plastic waste by reducing single-use plastic packaging through reuse models.

The Forum’s initiative continues to support breakthrough innovators such as MIWA and Muuse, which are revolutionizing consumption models. Global consumer companies are engaging with the Forum and these start-ups to meet better the demands of responsible citizens who are motivated to lead more environmentally sustainable lives.

Collectively, these organizations provide consumers access to reuse models that offer more convenient, affordable and environmentally sustainable alternatives to single-use.

Have you read?

What's the challenge with plastic waste?

The amount of waste is growing so quickly that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

Aside from its alarming waste footprint, the production of plastic increases carbon emissions, since plastic is a by-product of petroleum. Disposable packaging comes at an economic cost too, with 95% of its value lost after its initial use, which is estimated at roughly $100 billion annually. The impact on health is also becoming clearer, with scientists finding microplastics in human blood for the first time in March 2022.

Additionally, consumer sentiment to address plastic waste is increasing. According to a recent survey from polling firm Ipsos, 88% of people worldwide support an international treaty to address plastic pollution, with United Nations negotiations underway to develop a legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.

Our approach to reducing single-use plastic.

By bringing together a community of global companies and public sector organizations, the Consumers Beyond Waste initiative established a reuse viability framework to make the transition to reuse economically feasible.

The initiative also established guidelines for health and safety, design, and municipal considerations that offer a holistic perspective on mainstreaming reuse models for practitioners and policy-makers.

Since early 2022, a coalition of leading consumer companies (Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever and Walmart) and nonprofits (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund) have collaborated on standardization of measurement to ensure progress on reuse is measured consistently across industries and jurisdictions.

With companies and governments starting to set reuse targets, it has become essential to harmonize how success on reuse is measured. For example, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola announced in 2022 that they would deliver 20% and 25%, respectively, of their beverage servings globally through reusable packaging by 2030.

Ahead of the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2024, the initiative released a seminal guide to standardized reuse measurement, which is a culmination of working group member inputs, reuse metrics testing outcomes and team recommendations. The guidelines must be continually refined, as coalition members still seek convergence on key areas in the white paper.

Given the paramount importance of conducive policy frameworks on reuse and reuse measurement, the initiative has consistently engaged with the European Commission and Parliament to inform measures on reuse and refill in the new EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. Moreover, in its commitment to creating a future free of plastic waste, the initiative continues to advance efforts to elevate reuse as a core part of the United Nations agreement on plastic pollution.

How can you get involved?

The World Economic Forum invites partners and members to co-create responsible consumption and sustainable shopping models to benefit society, business and the planet through its Centre for Nature and Climate.

Do you want to team up with other responsible start-ups, companies, policy-makers, NGOs and experts to address the plastic waste crisis and join this movement to accelerate innovative reuse models at scale?

Contact us to learn how you can get involved.

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