The commitment to use only reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025 will likely not be met, according to the latest New Plastics Economy Global Commitment progress report.

While measurable progress is being made, “a lack of investment in collection and recycling infrastructure means the 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025 target is becoming unattainable for most signatory businesses,” the report notes.

Recycled plastic holds the upper hand

According to the report, the use of recycled content in plastic packaging continues to rise strongly, having doubled in the past three years. The share of post-consumer recycled content has risen from 4.8% in 2018 to 10.0% in 2021. Whilst it took decades for businesses to hit the 5% mark, signatories to the Global Commitment doubled it to 10% in just three years.

The failure of plastic reduction and reuse

However, while over half (59%) of business signatories have cut their use of virgin plastics since 2018, the overall use among the group increased in 2021 back to 2018 levels.

Even worse, the report also shows a decline in the share of reused packaging.

Yet, reduction and reuse are recognized as the most relevant solutions to act effectively against plastic pollution.

The reason some businesses have not hit peak virgin plastic is due to increases in their total plastic packaging use. This reinforces the need for businesses to decouple growth from the use of plastic packaging,” says the report.

For instance, 42% of signatories have yet to introduce any reuse models into their packaging strategies.

Lack of investment in infrastructures

The report shows that many businesses have been investing in ways to achieve 100% technical recyclability for rigid plastic packaging, but the benefit of this investment is being stifled by inadequate collection and sorting infrastructure around the world.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation therefore call on brands to adopt ambitious strategies to scale up reuse schemes, innovate away from flexible plastic packaging where possible, and reduce their use of single-use packaging. “Recycling alone is not sufficient to stop the flow of plastic pollution,” insists the Foundation.

For their part, in the context of the possible adoption of an international, legally binding instrument to tackle the plastic crisis a significant acceleration of policy efforts is needed from governments.

The transparency provided by the Global Commitment helps us understand how large the gap is that we still need to fill. It is clear that big challenges remain,” concludes Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Supported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme, The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment has brought together more than 500 organizations, which represent 20% of all plastic packaging produced in the world.