A short space of time but a long distance travelled in the road towards a world free of plastic pollution

Dr Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP

One of my last engagements before lockdown was in Brussels to join an impressive cast of politicians and business leaders at the launch of the European Plastics Pact; for which WRAP will provide the secretariat.

It was the latest in a string of similar high-profile Plastic Pact launch events which have taken place around the world – including in France, Chile, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Portugal. In this case, the European Plastics Pact is the first cross-border, regional Pact.

The Plastics Pact network is a globally aligned response to plastic waste and pollution, that enables vital knowledge sharing and coordinated action.

It connects initiatives and organisations from around the world, all working to implement a common vision for a plastics system that keeps plastics in the economy and out of the environment. Collectively they form a powerful collective for global change, able to tap into a unique platform to exchange learnings and best practices across regions to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastic.

I can now see what a historical moment it was just two years ago in London when I stood on a stage with Dame Ellen MacArthur, then Environment Secretary Michael Gove, influential business leaders and NGOs at the launch of The UK Plastics Pact. I don’t think we could have dared hope that together we would have spearheaded the global response we have.

The launch of The UK Plastics Pact was the culmination of 12 months working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others to corral support for an ambitious plan.

We wanted to fix our broken plastics system. We wanted to end the take-make-waste culture which results in millions of tonnes of plastic escaping into the environment, ending up in landfill or burned, and billions of dollars of valuable materials lost to the economy. We wanted to build a world-first and unique collaboration which would turn the tide on plastic pollution.

We were swept along on a wave of unprecedented demand for change from the public, politicians, senior public figures, and the media. I was particularly inspired by a call to action from the Prince of Wales who called businesses, academics, and NGOs together to discuss the plastics pollution challenge.

We all knew that it could not be solved by one organization, even one country. We needed a complete global recalibration of the system, not piecemeal solutions.

So, the ultimate aim was to create something which would be the launchpad for a worldwide response. That is what we had in mind when we co-created the UK Plastics Pact with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. We wanted to construct a model based on the New Plastics Economy initiative, which would be a blueprint for the world to follow.

The UK Plastics Pact was designed to be pioneering and ambitious.

Ambitious because it will force a total systemic overhaul to a circular economy for plastic by 2025. It will bring about the end of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging. It will ensure all packaging in the future is designed to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable in practice. It will drive a shift to reuse business models where possible. And it will help to drive investment so we can process more of our waste at home.

Pioneering because it pulls together the levers of government policy, business action and citizen behaviour, so they interconnect, complement, and drive each other.

It is built on the principle of collaboration – sharing knowledge and guidance, working to the same goal, tackling complexities and challenges head-on, being flexible and adaptable.

And it is working. Less than halfway to our 2025 goal and we are showing good progress towards the UK Plastics Pact’s targets. For example, more than one billion problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic items are to be eliminated by the end of this year. Our latest report also showed that members are over halfway towards all their packaging being recyclable and third of the way towards an average of 30% recycled content in their packaging. And the UK is over halfway towards recycling 70% of plastic packaging.

The UK Plastics Pact set the pace and continues to show the way.

So we were delighted, but not surprised, when the phone started ringing from around the world from others wanting help to follow our lead. Many see the power of a circular economy for plastic and the Plastic Pact network but do not know how to implement them.

We have been able to offer the expertise we have built up not only from running The UK Plastics Pact, but also from running other business collaboration initiatives, such as our Courtauld Commitment on food waste, and the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan. This has enabled us play pivotal roles in initiating and developing some of the Pacts and supporting others.

The global Plastics Pact network envisioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is now a reality on four continents, with more in the pipeline. And we are pushing ahead, working with the Foundation to secure funding and partners so we can continue to grow the Plastics Pact ‘family’ in more key places.

It is undoubtedly complex and hugely challenging. But also, hugely rewarding.

Today, the Plastic Pact network is a testament to the power of collaboration.

All Plastics Pacts are aligned to a common vision for a circular economy for plastic outlined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. Realising this ambitious vision will require unprecedented levels of collaboration, not just globally, but also at national and regional levels to work towards solutions tailored to each and every local context.

Each Plastics Pact brings together businesses, policymakers, and NGOs around the world, who through shared ambition, combined expertise and collaboration create regional and national solutions to plastic waste and pollution. The ingenuity and knowledge of in-country partners selected to run the Plastics Pacts is crucial. And this feeds into a rich resource of shared learning and best practice.

And work carries on. During the Covid-19 crisis, which has also seen many of our global Plastics Pact friends in lockdown, work is thriving. In fact, the call for our support is perhaps even greater and we are responding by delivering workshops and guidance remotely, using methods we have used for years of working globally.

We may need to adjust priorities, to continue to be agile and creative and be responsive to the way the Covid-19 crisis has impacted on Plastics Pact members. But one thing is clear: the journey we kick-started that evening two years ago in London remains unchanged. We cannot, and will not, let this be a regression back to the status quo. We remain totally committed to our vision of bringing about wholescale change by 2025 towards a circular economy for plastic. And together, we can.







The global Plastics Pact network includes:

 The Chilean Plastics Pact (El Pacto Chileno de los Plásticos)Run by Fundación Chile, a public private partnership focusing on sustainable development. The Pact was the first country in Latin America to join the global network, with WRAP support.
In France, the ‘Pacte National sur les emballages plastiques’Launched last year by the French Government and involving some of the biggest French brands and retailers including Carrefour, L’Oréal, as well as WWF-France. 
The South African Plastics Pact (The SA Plastics Pact)A first for Africa, the Pact was initiated by WRAP, WWF-SA and SAPRO (South African Plastics Recycling Organisation). It is now being led by Green Cape, with support from WRAP. Launched only this year, a roadmap and baseline data gathering are in progress.
The Portuguese Plastics Pact (Pacto Português para os Plásticos)Incorporating government, cities, NGOs and academia and run by Smart Waste Portugal, launched this year.
In the Netherlands, The Plastic Pact NL.Around 100 organisations, including more than 60 businesses signed up to the Pact when it was launched. It recently published its first results.
The European Plastics PactStarted by the Netherlands and France governments, is the first regional initiative and currently includes members from 15 governments and more than 60 companies within the European Economic Area (EEA).
The ANZPAC Plastics PactA first in the Pacific Region. Designed to include Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Island nations, its development was announced by the Australian Packaging Covenant Association (APCO) in March. APCO will develop the Pact with WRAP supporting the Pacific Islands component, with the official launch to follow this year.