Momentum grows to tackle plastic waste as ecosystems are facing unprecedented threats
Our land and marine ecosystems are facing extraordinary threats.Species are disappearing at alarming rates, land degradation is threatening the wellbeing of millions of people, worsening air pollution is costing millions of lives each year and plastic pollution in oceans and on land is reaching dangerous levels.
China’s decision to ban plastic and e-waste imports has thrown waste and recycling markets into turmoil, exposing the magnitude of plastic pollution and escalating the urgency to reduce and recycle far more materials.
Signals to Watch
Biodiversity at Breaking Point
Assessments of the Earth’s ecosystem present a very bleak picture. While awareness about biodiversity loss is growing, attention paid by companies and other organizations to the issue remains limited.
"Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions"
According to the most comprehensive assessment of global ecosystem health in recent decades, biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate across most of the natural world. Species are disappearing 1,000 times faster than their natural rate of extinction.
In its Living Planet Report, WWF finds “exploding human consumption” was the main reason behind a massive drop in global wildlife population in recent decades. Between 1970 and 2014, losses in vertebrate species – mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles – averaged 60 percent.
Air pollution levels are reaching critical levels. WHO estimates that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants and around 7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air.
More than 75 percent of land areas are now substantially degraded, which negatively impacts the well-being of more than 3.2 billion people.
Sustainability experts believe that the global community has made very limited progress on SDG 14: Life Below Water and SDG 15: Life on Land. They are among the Sustainable Development Goals that receive the least attention from business and other organizations.
Waste and Plastic Hit Headlines
Global awareness about plastic pollution and its impact on our ecosystems continues to grow. Several major global coalitions have been announced to tackle the issue. Businesses are experiencing growing pressure from consumers to reduce plastic waste.
Before announcing a ban in January 2018, China imported more than two-thirds of the world’s plastic waste.
Nestlé is addressing the growing plastic waste problem by creating an Institute of Packaging Sciences, which will focus on innovating recyclable, biodegradable and compostable packaging.
The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment brings together businesses, government and civil society behind a vision for achieving a circular economy for plastic. The 290 organizations that have signed the commitment represent 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally.
UNEP’s Global Plastics Platform aims to drive cross-border collaboration and learning between countries and cities.
Marine plastic issues are gaining increasing prominence in Asia. Circulate Capital and Ocean Conservancy announced at least $150 million of investment capital for waste and recycling innovations that prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean from Asian countries.
WWF announced a 3-year, $7.5 million No More Plastics in our Ocean initiative funded by Norwegian government to advance a global governance solution to marine plastic pollution.
What to Expect in 2019
Global awareness about waste and plastic pollution will continue to grow. A number of collaborations have already been announced but much greater effort will be required to tackle the issue. China’s decision to ban waste imports will continue to put pressure on governments and businesses to look for systemic solutions on a global scale. While awareness about biodiversity loss compared to other sustainable development issues has been low, a growing number of NGOs are working to change it. Public and private organizations alike will face growing expectations to play a more active part in preserving land and marine ecosystems.
What This Means for Business
Address plastic waste across the entire value chain
Companies across many industries – not only the ones directly responsible for most of plastic waste (food & agriculture, retail, etc.) but also those less associated with plastic pollution (technology, pharma, etc.) – will face growing pressure by governments, customers and other stakeholders to address plastic waste. Companies need to take a close look at their entire value chain to implement solutions that would reduce waste and plastic pollution.
Biodiversity as a material issue
Few companies identify biodiversity as a material issue, but as awareness about land and marine ecosystems crises grows, businesses will be expected to take a closer look at their impact – and dependence – on biodiversity.
Invest in circular solutions
Investing in circular solutions along the entire value chain provides one of the most effective pathways for companies to address waste issues and improve sustainability of their operations.