I think many people have been left with the feeling that not only is recycling enough but it’s also the responsibility of the end user to do the recycling. But corporations have a huge responsibility to reduce plastic waste in all areas of the supply chain. And a large number of companies globally indicate that they intend to contribute to reducing plastic pollution. According to Diana et al (2022) a full 72% of the largest companies in the world have made public commitments to reducing plastic pollution. Unfortunately, these efforts focus on after the fact efforts and the quantity of plastic pollution just keeps increasing.
The most common efforts planned by companies involve increasing the percentage of recycled plastic incorporated into packaging. Investment in recycling facilities and technology is also mentioned. The main focus for reducing virgin plastic use is in making containers with thinner plastics.
Many of these commitments don’t come with associated targets, or the targets focus on a single product allowing for increased plastic use overall through other, additional products. That in itself is problematic. But we are not going to recycle our way out of this problem. In 2015, almost 80% of plastic produced globally was in landfills. 12% was incinerated. Leaving a measly 9% in recycling.
Recycling plastic is not a simple process. Mixed materials and contamination make it expensive and chemically complex. Reducing plastic needs to be done before it gets produced. We need to change the systems. Creating opportunities to not need to use plastic at all. There are small efforts on this front but they are often by small companies with limited reach. The world needs large companies to go beyond recycling in their commitments.