In March, an historic deal was reached between 200 countries after jointly agreeing to a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution. Prior to the agreement of terms made at the Environment Assembly conference in Nairobi, more than 90 businesses – including some of the world’s largest plastic packaging producers such as Coca Cola and PepsiCo – as well as 300 scientists, had been urging UN delegates to back the former resolution and to “accept nothing less” than a strong requirement to curb plastic pollution at the very start of the value chain.
While this is of course good news and a major step in the war against plastic, it is long overdue. The warning bells have been audible for some time and getting progressively louder. Two years ago, according to a science journal, plastic pollution is expected to weigh 1.3 billion tonnes by 2040. As it stands, each year 11 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean — that’s a truck load per minute – a number which is set to triple according to the ominous forecast.
What is hoped now is that the global treaty will continue to unify stakeholder groups around how this huge environmental issue is dealt with. Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste + Business at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said: “Unified language will likely affect global operations and supply chains, as well as potentially level the playing field between companies and countries that have made voluntary commitments, with those that haven’t.”
Furthermore, it’s perceived that the treaty will make it markedly easier for waste-reduction targets to be met by companies, as it will call for uniform recycling standards that produce consistent feedstocks (i.e. raw materials supplied to a manufacturing or industrial process) for an effective circular economy. This could potentially be a compelling business case for organisations and brands and it will reveal economic – as well as environmental – benefits that are currently being overlooked.
An intergovernmental negotiation committee is set to commence work on the treaty in the second half of 2022, with the aim of completing it by the end of 2024. That’s over two years away, and this is even before it has been globally implemented.
So what can companies as well as individuals do in the meantime as part of their sustainability strategy? The answer of course is plenty. As a business, committing to responsible recycling is of critical importance. It enables materials, including plastic, to be re-used and recycled, diverting away from landfill and giving it a new purpose, reducing volumes of general waste produced and improving a company’s environmental performance. Once landfilled, plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose, and other plastic materials up to 1,000 years, causing environmental damage and a waste of a resource. Alternatively, made into clothing items, this plastic waste gets a new lease of life, reduces the need to use virgin plastics and helps prevent it ending up in the ocean.
The types of plastics a waste management specialist can collect and recycle include (but are not limited to):
- Drinks Bottles
- Polythene Film and Pallet Shrink-Wrap
- Plastic Packaging
- Medical Equipment
- UPVC Window Frames
- Plastic Goods Manufacturing Offcuts
It is highly recommended that companies partner with a waste management and recycling partner which will locate the most environmentally friendly and sustainable disposal route for their waste streams, while also offering a wider range of bins and containers at a collection frequency to suit the business. As well as meeting vital recycling targets as part of a greener business strategy, working with a specialist could also significantly reduce an organisation’s costs.
Less than three years from now, it will be seen as to whether the international community is up to the task the UNEA has set out. The world has one big opportunity to fix the plastics pollution issue and every business and individual must play their part. Are you?