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Plastic waste continues to grow – even for companies committed to cutting it

Most members of the ReSource: Plastic initiative have reported increases in plastic tonnage.
Melodie Michel
Plastic waste continues to grow – even for companies committed to cutting it
Photo by Antoine GIRET on Unsplash

Six of the nine companies committed to reducing plastic use through WWF’s ReSource: Plastic initiative have reported increases in plastic tonnage – proving that cutting plastic waste remains one of the more challenging aspects of a Chief Sustainability Officer’s job.

The latest ReSource: Plastic progress report, released this week by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), reveals that despite efforts to cut unnecessary plastic use, the overall amount sold by the initiative’s nine members to retailers or consumers, or discarded in house, increased by 0.8% from 2021 to 2022 – to a total of 7.2 million metric tonnes.

Two companies, Coca-Cola and Amcor, together account for 78% of the total reported volume, and Coca-Cola alone used 250,000 tonnes more plastic in 2022 than the previous year.

Packaging giant Amcor is one of just three members that actually managed to cut their tonnage last year, alongside Colgate-Palmolive and CVS Health.

“As the world continues to grapple with the best approach to end plastic pollution, one thing has become abundantly clear over the last year: action is required at all economic levels (including individuals, companies, and governments) if we wish to see real change this century,” warned WWF, praising ReSource members for their efforts to transparently report their plastic footprints.

Tackling plastic waste and emissions

The global plastic packaging market was estimated to be 139 million metric tonnes in 2021, and many large companies, particularly in the packaging-hungry fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector have pledged to reduce their footprint.

Their primary strategies employed by the likes of Nestlé, Unilever and PepsiCo include moving away from single-use plastics and increasing recycled plastic content in products and packaging. 

But recent experiences shared by the likes of Lego and Coca-Cola show that this is not an exact science. The business case and applicability of recycled plastics vary widely depending on the molecule targeted and the recycling process used, and many companies are still testing options to figure out how to best move away from virgin plastic.

​​Among ReSource members, the use of recycled content has increased from 10.2% in 2021 to 12% in 2022, while biobased plastic (often made from algae) continues to make up less than 1% of the members’ aggregate portfolio.

While reducing plastic use is likely to take some time, industry associations are trying to cut the carbon footprint of production – but warning that it will take a €235 billion investment to achieve net zero