World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Mounds of plastic bottle waste and other types of plastic waste at the Thilafushi waste disposal site.

Reflections from WWF's Plastic Policy Summit

  • Date: 29 March 2024
  • Author: Erin Simon, Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste & Business

Erin Simon addresses a full house for WWF's second annual Plastic Policy Summit

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting WWF’s second annual Plastic Policy Summit, where more than 300 stakeholders came together to discuss solutions to one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time: plastic pollution. While last year’s Summit focused on education and engagement, this year’s themes shifted to activation and acceleration.

Why? Because 2024 is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal years for action against plastic pollution in my memory – and I've been in this fight for over a decade.

But first let’s talk about progress. Since last year's Summit, we have made great strides, including advancement on policies at the state level, particularly in California and Colorado, where new laws have established Extended Producer Responsibility for plastic and packaging materials; release of the first ever EPA Draft National Plastics Strategy and action on key issues like procurement and environmental justice; and bipartisan support for federal legislation to improve recycling and growing congressional interest in more ambitious policies that would move us towards a circular economy.

Globally, we continue to raise the bar of ambition for the upcoming global plastics treaty. While the negotiation process has had its share of challenges, we still hear a strong commitment to centering a just transition, phasing out problematic plastics, tackling chemicals of concern, and ensuring mechanisms of implementation that can work for all countries.

Throughout the two days of the Summit, I was heartened to see the dedicated level of collaboration, innovation, and creativity. It’s my sincere hope that it can transform into action at the scope and scale necessary for the future of our planet.

The Summit brought together environmental justice leaders, recyclers, state-level activists, and corporates, and key players in the federal government. These leaders all have a valuable perspective on the plastic waste crisis and are a critical part of the solution. To move toward a future with no plastic in nature, we’ll need to move from divisiveness to progress – both domestically and abroad.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse kicked off the Summit by advocating for both congressional and administrative action, reminding us that plastic pollution intersects with other critical environmental issues affecting our oceans, lands, and climate. Leading businesses urged action on an ambitious, legally binding global plastics treaty that addresses the entire lifecycle of plastics. We heard environmental justice leaders call for stakeholders to reduce plastic production, invest in safer alternatives, improve community education efforts, and, most importantly, ensure that fence line and underrepresented communities are consulted and included in all decision making.

In the U.S., the Biden Administration has demonstrated strong support for tackling the issue both at home and abroad. WWF is working to build greater momentum in the plastics pollution conversation and encouraging increased domestic action from the White House. Backing us up is the groundswell of support we are witnessing from the American public and business in reducing plastic pollution.

In a poll recently conducted by WWF, we learned that 85% of Americans think that plastic waste pollution is a serious and concerning problem that requires immediate political action to solve, and most would support legislative action that enforces corporate accountability on plastic pollution.

It's time to capitalize on this momentum. Conversations and connections that were initiated at the Summit must be continued and fostered toward progress. All of us must support efforts to engage stakeholders to reduce harm from plastic production and pollution; activate legislative, executive, and voluntary pathways to eliminate plastic pollution; and accelerate coordinated action to implement and scale successful initiatives.

We’re at a crossroads when it comes to addressing plastic pollution. There is a lot of momentum and support for taking action. We need to decide now how to move forward. It’s my hope that we’ll build bridges with each other and make this enormous materials system be more circular. It's imperative that we work together to make change on a speed and scale that matters.