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The Most Commonly Asked Questions for Businesses Fighting Plastic Pollution

  • Date: 24 May 2024
  • Author: Erin Simon

As WWF’s head of Plastic Pollution & Business, as well as a material science engineer with a decade of experience in the packaging industry, I often engage with companies about the scope and scale of the plastic pollution crisis – and specifically, what they should be doing about it. While it’s a simple question, it hasn’t always been as simple to answer.

Since its mainstream introduction in the 1940s, plastic has played an important role in shaping our society – helping our food stay fresh, our medical equipment sanitary, and our economy boom with convenient and affordable packaging for consumer products.

Recently however, the production of virgin single-use plastic has exploded, with more plastic products produced in the past 15 years alone than that of the entire 20th century. And while production has rapidly increased, our infrastructure and capacity to effectively deal with the resulting waste have not – leaving 75% of all plastic ever produced to become pollution, harming our environment, communities and even our bodies.

As an individual, I always aim to do my part with mindful consumption and proper disposal of the products I use – but as a sustainability professional, I also know that the only way to really achieve change at scale is for companies to design products and systems that make it easier for us to not create plastic waste in the first place.

Throughout my time at WWF, I've seen firsthand that businesses around the world are ready to step up. As awareness of this issue has risen, so too have corporate efforts to tackle plastic up and down the supply chain. The number of national and voluntary initiatives has increased by 60% in just the last five years. Yet even though many of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies rank tackling plastic packaging waste as a top sustainability issue, they often don’t know where to begin to deliver the lasting and effective results our planet needs.

That’s why WWF created the Blueprint for Credible Action on Plastic Pollution – a new guidebook to give businesses the insights and resources they need to achieve measurable impact on the journey towards circularity. The Plastic Blueprint is a helpful tool both for companies initiating a new plastic strategy and those seeking to maintain leadership or expand existing strategies. For the latter, the Blueprint can help them identify gaps in existing programs and pinpoint opportunities for expansion and collaboration.

WWF has engaged with hundreds of businesses on plastic pollution over the past decade, and in that time, I’ve learned the most common challenges that companies face when they join this fight. The Plastic Blueprint is designed to take that one simple, if complicated, question of “what should companies be doing to address the plastic pollution crisis?” and instead breaks it down into a more digestible, stepwise approach – pairing action with real world examples and additional resources. See below a few highlights to the kind of insights this guidebook can provide.

Q: Is there a business case to justify the cost of addressing plastic pollution?

A: Addressing plastic pollution is not only an ethical responsibility for companies but also a smart business decision. In addition to reducing costs and fostering innovation, proactive measures to reduce plastic pollution help companies comply with upcoming regulations and stay resilient in the face of a changing landscape. As consumers are more and more aware of plastic waste, forward-thinking businesses can strengthen their company’s reputation and foster trust among their stakeholders, thereby capturing sustainable consumer markets and cultivating customer loyalty. Learn more in “The Business Case for Action” on page 7 of the Blueprint Report.

Q: My business is brand new to this issue – where do we even start?

A: The very first step to starting your sustainability journey is to really understand the plastic pollution crisis, your company’s contribution to the problem, and what potential solutions are available. After building an internal awareness of the crisis, you should map out your company’s value chain and begin to measure your plastic footprint – because you can’t set out to solve a problem unless you truly understand where it stems from and what enabling factors are at play. Only then will you have the proper information and insights to commit to realistic yet ambitious goals that will maximize your company’s impact – and then you can begin working towards them. Learn more in “Step 1: Understand the Plastic Pollution Crisis, Measure your Impact, and Set Ambitious Goals” on page 11 of the Blueprint Report.

Q: How can my company become an industry leader in this fight?

A: While the private sector is a critical point of influence in the global materials system, no single company can stop plastic pollution alone. After setting targets and implementing operational strategy to reach firm-level goals, your company is ready to start collaborating and advocating for broader interventions. To become a leader in this space, you should work with others to amplify your impact and foster knowledge sharing, resource pooling, and the collective commitment to sustainable plastic use. You can also make credible investments outside your company’s direct operations that create holistic and lasting change by addressing root causes of plastic pollution – raising all boats with their tide. Learn more in “Step 3: Collaborate and Advocate for Systems-Level Change” on page 17 of the Blueprint Report.

WWF envisions companies playing an influential role in creating a circular future that supports the well-being of all people and nature—and I’m optimistic that we can get there, especially as more and more businesses step up to do their part. Back in 2018, my team of corporate engagement experts determined that just 100 companies could prevent 50 million tons of plastic waste—but only if they act now to effectively redesign how we source, use, and dispose of plastics.

That work has already begun, and resources like the Plastic Blueprint can help to both invigorate more companies to join the fight and accelerate the work already being done across industry.

No matter if you’re a company just starting out or if you have also spent decades driving for a more sustainable future – we all have a role to play. Together, we can stem the tide of plastic leaking into nature and protect human health and the precious ecosystems that support us all.


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