World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Better business for a better Earth

At World Wildlife Fund, we believe deeply in the private sector’s ability to drive positive environmental change. WWF Sustainability Works is a forum for discussion around strategies, commitments, technologies and more that will help businesses achieve conservation goals that are good for the planet and their bottom lines. Follow WWF Sustainability Works on twitter at @WWFBetterBiz.

filtered by category: Plastic

  • 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.

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  • Date: 17 April 2024

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve the plastic pollution crisis.

There is overwhelming support around the world to reduce plastic pollution, even among major plastic-production countries. In fact, recent polling shows that 85% of people globally would be in favor of a ban on single-use plastic. Leaders in the business community see a future without plastic pollution and are actively pursuing measures to develop alternatives to petroleum-based plastic. But to sustain these efforts, we need policymakers to develop regulations that ensure a level playing field and deliver greater transparency to minimize supply chain risks.

That’s where the Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution comes in. The fourth negotiating session, or INC-4, begins April 23rd, and is our last best chance to focus on achieving a successful treaty outcome.

We recently sat down with Erin Simon, WWF’s Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste + Business, to discuss what’s at stake with INC-4, how a global plastics treaty would impact Americans, and what we can all do to support the adoption of a strong, legally-binding agreement.

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

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.

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  • Date: 21 March 2024

The U.S. generates more plastic waste than anywhere else in the world, affecting American rivers, coastlines, landscapes, and communities. This crisis is apparent everywhere, from our cities to the countryside. While we don’t yet know the full impact of plastic pollution on human health, research increasingly shows that there is real cause for concern.

But do Americans recognize the severity of the plastic pollution crisis? What actions will they take or support to help fix it? To find out, WWF conducted a survey of more than 1000 Americans, representative of the U.S. general population.

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • The majority of Americans (85%) think that plastic waste pollution is a serious and concerning problem that requires immediate political action to solve.
  • Most Americans would support legislative action that enforces corporate accountability on plastic pollution
    • A majority of people would be in favor of laws that: incentivize companies to reduce plastic waste (87%); make companies responsible for the plastic waste they create (84%); penalize companies for creating waste (78%).
  • Over two-thirds of Americans support either banning (71%) or placing a fee (70%) on single-use plastics.
  • When asked “would you be more likely to undertake any of the following actions if there was more assurance it was beneficial to the environment” respondents said:
    • 94% said they were “somewhat to much more likely” to recycle plastics
    • 91% said they were “somewhat to much more likely” to limit how much single-use plastic they use
    • 92% said they were “somewhat to much more likely” to choose products that are made from recycled plastics
    • 91% said they were “somewhat to much more likely” to make use of reusable and/or refillable products in place of single-use plastic items

You can explore more survey results below:

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  • Date: 11 March 2024
  • Author: Cristina Marcos

From the witness stand of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to the offices of 68 members of Congress, WWF is leading the charge on Capitol Hill for pragmatic policy solutions to reduce plastic pollution.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a first-ever hearing on March 6 to evaluate a potential solution to plastic waste long championed by WWF: Extended Producer Responsibility. Erin Simon, WWF Vice President and Head, Plastic Waste and Business, served as an expert witness to explain why this concept, also known as EPR, to shift the financial responsibility of material waste management from consumers and municipalities to plastic producers would help transition our economy away from wasteful single-use plastics.

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  • Date: 01 February 2024
  • Author: Judith Hochhauser Schneider

All those bottles on beaches, fashion garments in landfills, and obsolete tech devices in dumps or incinerators, didn’t have to meet this fate. They became trash because a plan wasn’t put in place at the beginning of the product lifecycle to recapture the waste and use it to make new products and materials. That’s the basic premise of a circular economy. And it takes responding to external factors, collaborating internally, and coordinating across the entire supply chain to accomplish it well.

Having worked at WWF for over eight years leading large corporate partnerships, I saw that the most sustainable companies didn’t have the biggest sustainability teams. On the contrary, these brands effectively embedded sustainability strategy, and personnel, into each functional area: marketing, supply chain, finance, etc. This is an evolution from the often grassroots, isolated sustainability teams of years prior. The strongest companies strive to meet consumers where they are, satisfy shareholders, hold one another accountable, and meet government compliance rules.

As we think about creating a truly circular economy, the level of complexity increases as do calls for new ways to work together to drive change. Internal and external coordination must be ratcheted up. There is no room for siloed thinking; change requires a systems-thinking approach to understand the interdependencies within and outside of an organization. Additional tools are needed, especially in a rapidly changing landscape with circularity expectations from regulators, shareholders, and consumers.

Governments

One significant shift currently underway involves the ways that governments are tackling one of the major challenges in circularity: plastic waste.

Governments at the local, state, and national levels are addressing plastic waste in different ways. Perhaps most significant is the Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution, which is establishing a set of legally binding global agreements that delineate the steps and timelines necessary to change the production and consumption of plastics. Along with domestic and state legislation, initiatives like this will lead to regulatory measures. Encouraging creative thinking requires internal collaboration among stakeholders and countless others to make that shift from a voluntary to a regulatory landscape.

Companies

As Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Business change as critical as circularity requires implementing a change in corporate culture. One of the best ways to shift culture is to involve cross-functional teams in designing process change. It ensures collective understanding, clarity in accountability, and personal responsibility. In addition, making a concerted effort to align incentives across functions will encourage internal behavior change, which is especially effective when linked to corporate targets. The result is more employees taking ownership in their respective roles and encouraging the right conversations at the right levels of seniority.

Consumers

Circularity presents a new way of doing business and engaging customers. It is no secret that companies track legions of customer data before, during, and immediately after a sale. But infrequently do they continue to track that product (and its disposal). And most don’t provide guidance to the end user about how to manage or reclaim a product or its materials. Plus customers can feel abandoned when they are left to dispose or recycle the products and packaging on their own, without the help of the company who produced it or the municipality who collects it. This is a missed opportunity for circularity!

Since leaving WWF, I have been working to launch the Global Impact Collective, a new consultancy that uses systems and design thinking to advance sustainability implementation at pace.

Design thinking is an important process, which sometimes requires an expert guide and facilitator to ignite innovative ideas. The process brings together crucial stakeholders who can contribute different perspectives to the same problem. And when used well, it has become a powerful tool to drive alignment, improve collaboration, and surface truly innovative solutions.

At The Collective, we bring together key teams, including product design, sourcing, packaging, marketing, sales, finance, and others – people who don’t often find themselves in the same room at the same time, focused on problem solving. This process gives organizations the space and speed to develop many creative ideas and solutions at once. And because all the stakeholders are in the room, new solutions are socialized and pre-vetted for testing.

Consumers, governments, and companies can’t solve the plastic waste problem on their own. Coordination across sectors will be critical to understanding the perspectives of different stakeholders and making sector-wide progress. But before cross-sector collaboration happens, internal coordination within your organization is key. When you bring design thinking into the equation it invites an expansive, perspective shifting mindset. It allows you to say, “how might we…”, opening the door for broader, more creative solutions that are more inclusive and engage players throughout the value chain.

Join Us!

Come see it in action on February 12 at GreenBiz24 when the Global Impact Collective leads a design thinking workshop called Design Swarm™ for Circularity: Harnessing Our Collective Genius.  Be part of the experience as sustainability leaders unpack how to partner with internal stakeholders to creatively solve the issue of circularity.  This fast-paced, creative session, which will harness the creativity of the minds in the room to generate a large volume of breakthrough ideas at a very rapid speed to address internal coordination in your organization. We will explore circular economy from the perspective of Food & Bev, Technology, Fashion thanks to our esteemed lightning speakers: Erin Simon (WWF), Meghann Glavin (Starbucks), Jim Hanna (Microsoft) and Jennifer DuBuisson (Levi Strauss & Co).

We’d love to see you at Greenbiz24. Please reach out to let us know if you’ll be there so we can send you workshop materials in advance. Please join us!

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of WWF.

  • Date: 14 December 2023
  • Author: Erin Simon, Vice President and Head, Plastic Waste and Business

Plastic waste has been found everywhere, from city streets to the depths of the Mariana Trench, where it harms economies, ecosystems, and human health. While the crisis feels ubiquitous, there has been strong momentum recently to find solutions, from city initiatives to negotiations for a Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution. The Global Plastics Treaty, in particular, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for businesses, governments, and communities to create a world free of plastic pollution.

As the world continues to grapple with the best approach to end plastic pollution, one thing has become abundantly clear over the last year: action is required at all economic levels (including individuals, companies, and governments) if we wish to see real change this century. The first step in addressing plastic pollution is understanding the scope of the problem and emphasizing that plastic reporting is not only possible, but critical to change. The corporate Members of WWF’s ReSource: Plastic initiative are demonstrating this possibility through continued efforts to transparently report their plastic footprints and progress against plastic waste goals. This work is showcased in the just released annual report, Transparent 2023, which details and tracks the latest year-over-year progress of ReSource Member companies’ efforts to reduce plastic waste.

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  • Date: 20 November 2023
  • Author: Erin Simon, Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste & Business

I traveled to Nairobi this past week, where representatives from nearly every country in the world gathered to continue the negotiations on the UN Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution, a landmark blueprint for ensuring that plastic never contaminates the places we love most. Walking into the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme, I felt nothing but hope and optimism. Through the ups and downs of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I knew we might have a long week ahead of us but my faith in the UN process to work was still very much intact.

The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) was supposed to be a critical moment for countries to agree on how to end plastic pollution through concrete commitments and decisive action. If done right, the framework being negotiated represents the best shot to work with businesses and governments to dramatically reduce the level of unmanaged plastic waste, particularly in nature, and to create a more sustainable and efficient economy.

At the beginning of the week, WWF set a clear vision for what a successful treaty looks like. This includes global, binding, and collaborative rules, not individual commitments from each of the 175 UN Member Nations. Specifically, WWF is advocating for:

  • A clear path to ban, phase out or reduce production of single-use plastic and the most damaging plastic chemicals currently used in manufacturing and packaging.
  • A defined set of requirements for product and systems designs that reflects the innovation we need to manage plastic waste and support a global economy based on sustainability, not disposability.
  • Proven financial measures and policies that provide the incentives for businesses to transition from single-use plastic products to more innovative, sustainable options.

However, early in the week, a handful of like-minded states—including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Cuba, Bahrain, and India—rejected the Zero Draft prepared by the chair and demanded a new one that they felt better suited their own interests, but clearly did not reflect all the views of the majority of Member States.

As the week went on, as an observer, it felt harder and harder to watch these few countries become successful in their deployment of tactics to slow the process down. I understand the vision of the UN -- the need for the equality of voices and perspectives. I wholeheartedly agree that complex world problems need a collective and collaborative approach to solve them. But it feels like while trying to preserve that ideal we lost touch of the purpose. It becomes hard to defend the process and its value when a few agendas continued to dominate and delay while they advocated for their sovereignty of resources over human health and ecosystems.

When countries unanimously agreed to negotiate a treaty to END plastic pollution, I believed them. And this treaty is our best bet, but only if we find the most common ground possible to create a world where humans and species are not suffering. In the end, the majority of Member states fought for a high level of ambition, with more than 100 countries supporting global bans and phase-outs of the most harmful and avoidable plastics, and 140 countries calling to establish global binding rules as opposed to voluntary actions, but to get the job done, it will require a strong political will we did not see in Nairobi. The will to stand up and speak up not for country or economic agendas but for the people and planet who depend on these world leaders to do their part.

When we said everyone has a role to play, we meant it. WWF will continue to fight for this future - will companies and policymakers do the same? We can’t afford to let this moment slip by us.

Read Erin Simon's reflections from INC-2 in Paris, here.

  • Date: 07 November 2023

In the absence of global rules, regulations and coordinated action, the transboundary plastic pollution crisis is worsening. Despite a number of national and voluntary measures, the absence of common global rules to combat plastic pollution impacts all countries. However, it is low- and middle-income countries, especially low-income countries and small island developing states that are bearing the brunt of the problem. This report reveals for the first time the scale of these disparities. It estimates that the true full lifetime cost of plastic is 8 times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. For low-income countries in particular, the full lifetime cost of plastic rises to 10 times that of high income countries

The distinct challenges faced by many of these countries are a symptom of three key structural inequities in the plastic value chain. As a result of these inequities, the burden of plastic pollution is unevenly distributed across countries around the world.

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  • Date: 18 September 2023
  • Author: Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Laura Phillips-Alvarez

Laura Phillips-Alvarez is an intern with the Media and External Affairs Department at WWF

I had a very D.C. childhood. And by that I mean, I grew up between Honduras, Uganda, Tajikistan, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and the U.S. (in that order). I never know what to respond when people ask me where I’m from, so I give a palatable answer that does not actually answer where I am from.

“My mom is from Guatemala and my dad is from Boston.”

“Cool!”

This mixed-identity crisis is common in third culture kids (TCK’s), a term coined in the 1950s for children who spend their formative years in a culture other than their parents.

Identity crisis aside, spending the first 13 years of my life in some of the countries that are the hardest hit by climate change (and the least responsible for it) instilled in me a great sense of urgency to live as sustainably as possible.

As Hispanic Heritage Month kicks-off, I wanted to reflect on some of the lessons in sustainable living that I adopted from my childhood across Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the U.S.

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