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Coca-Cola and Unilever among brands calling for global pact to cut plastic pollution

Coca-Cola and Unilever among brands calling for global pact to cut plastic pollution

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Global brands such as The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Beiersdorf, IKEA, and Mondelez have called for a global pact to address plastic pollution. National governments will gather next month for the resumed session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2), presenting the international community with an opportunity to take substantial decisions on plastic pollution.

More than 70 companies including P&G, Nestle, Starbucks, Mars, Pepsico, L’Oreal, Inditex, H&M Group, and Danone, have signed a joint statement for a legally binding UN treaty on plastic pollution.

“We are at a critical point in time to establish an ambitious UN treaty that fosters collaboration for systemic solutions and speeds up the transition to a circular economy globally,” the statement said. It added that UNEA 5.2 is the decisive, most auspicious moment to turn the tide on the global plastic pollution crisis and that the world “cannot afford to miss it”.

The joint statement also called for the UN treaty to recognise that the issue of plastic pollution is transboundary in nature and leads to significant negative impacts on the environment, society, and economy. It also called for a holistic, coordinated international response that tackles problems at its source. At the same time, the statement urged the UN treaty to recognise that a circular economy for plastics will contribute to the efforts to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, while bringing positive social and economic impacts.

Based on this, the statement is pushing for UN member states to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee at UNEA 5.2 to develop a legally binding treaty that includes both upstream and downstream policies; sets a clear direction to align governments, businesses and civil society behind a common understanding of the causes of plastic pollution and a shared approach to address them; as well as provide a robust governance structure to ensure countries’ participation and compliance.

Separately, Unilever also recently issued a statement saying that banning plastic waste altogether is not the answer. Instead, the solution lies in reducing the use of virgin plastic (making as little as possible in the first place) while keeping all plastic that is produced in a circular economy. According to the FMCG brand, it is working hard on both fronts and has pledged to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 – partly by eliminating over 100,000 tonnes of plastic from its packaging – and design all its packaging to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable. So far, Unilever said it has made good progress, reducing the amount of plastic used from 711,000 metric tonnes in 2018 to 690,000 metric tonnes in 2020. 

The FMCG brand was recently called out by British fund manager Terry Smith who said the brand has "clearly lost the plot". Multiple media reports including The Business Times said the brand seems to be "labouring under the weight of a management which is obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business". Smith is the founder of Fundsmith, one of the top 10 shareholders in Unilever, BT said. One example of this, Smith said, would be Ben & Jerry's refusing to sell ice cream in Palestinian-occupied territories.

Meanwhile, a Reuters investigation done in 2021 found that new recycling technologies highlighted by the plastics industry have struggled to tackle the problem of plastic waste, and less than 10% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. Meanwhile, Reuters said that the production of plastic, which comes from oil and gas, is expected to double within 20 years. 

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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