To Tackle Plastic Pollution, Partnership Helps Companies See Their Role in the Problem

Better awareness of plastic use and output should empower businesses to reduce both

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To Tackle Plastic Pollution, Partnership Helps Companies See Their Role in the Problem
A recycling company in Melbourne, has been declared bankrupt and its six major warehouses are full of recyclable materials awaiting processing. This warehouse is located in the industrial suburb of Derrimut.
Jason South/The Age via Getty Images

Plastic pollution is one of the great environmental challenges of our time. It harms our natural world, our economies, and our communities, threatening terrestrial, freshwater and ocean ecosystems, and possibly human health. Plastic is nearly ubiquitous on Earth: It has been found in the deepest parts of the ocean, on the highest mountain peaks and even in human bloodstreams.

Still, the problem is surmountable. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2020 report “Breaking the Plastic Wave, as well as a paper in Science, identified a path forward to solving this problem. It showed that with existing solutions, and with everyone from governments and industry to advocacy groups and consumers playing a role, the amount of plastic going into the environment could be reduced by 80% from 2020 levels by 2040, creating new jobs, saving governments billions of dollars and reducing plastics-related greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most significant obstacles to addressing the problem effectively is a lack of data. That is, despite the scale of the problem and the extent of its impacts, many companies still have a limited understanding of their own plastic footprint. Without knowing their plastic production, usage and consumption, companies have a hard time knowing whether their commitments and actions are helping to meaningfully reduce plastic pollution.  

But this data gap can also be closed. The not-for-profit charity CDP is a leader in its space, having pioneered a global disclosure system for carbon, water, and causes of forest degradation that can be used by investors, companies, and city, state and regional governments to manage their environmental impacts. CDP is now turning to plastics to develop a similar system as part of a partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation—which worked with the United Nations Environment Programme on the groundbreaking New Plastics Economy Global Commitment—and experts from Pew and the Minderoo Foundation.  

Announced at an event during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, our ambition is to collectively build a plastics disclosure system that is on a par with those in existence for carbon, helping companies understand and tackle their plastic footprints and, in turn, guide governments and investors on their policy measures and sustainable investments. Through CDP, more than 680 financial institutions with more than US$130 trillion in assets already call on nearly 10,400 companies to disclose environmental data.

Global plastic pollution is already at staggering levels and is forecast to increase dramatically without fast, ambitious actions. Partnerships are key to tackling the plastic pollution problem. Pew thanks CDP, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the Minderoo Foundation for joining us in this initiative. 

Winnie Lau leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ preventing ocean plastics project.