World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

filtered by category: Plastic

  • 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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  • Date: 17 August 2023
  • Author: Tessa Bellone, Plastic Waste Specialist, WWF

Many people considered the invention of single-use plastic to be the height of innovation at its time, with disposable plastic bags, cups and utensils skyrocketing in popularity due to their versatility and convenience. However, after decades of overconsumption and mismanagement, these same products have now become a symbol of environmental degradation – clogging our oceans with millions of tons of plastic pollution every year.

As the plastic pollution crisis grows in severity, the world is in dire need of new business models that are capable of matching the ease, function and affordability of single-use plastic without the devastating levels of waste.

That’s where reuse comes in.

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  • Date: 25 July 2023

The world has never been closer to reaching a global solution towards addressing the plastic pollution crisis. And with the Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution coming into view, the policy landscape around the world is advancing quickly – and it’s critical that the United States is keeping at pace.

In March 2023, World Wildlife Fund hosted its first-ever Plastic Policy Summit to help forge this path forward in the US by bringing together voices across the spectrum of plastic waste stakeholders and rights holders under one roof. Over the course of two days, speakers and participants—including federal agency representatives, state and local policymakers, nonprofit and corporate leaders, and members of Congress—took part in discussions to help inform how we, as a country, can advance policies and collective action toward a shared outcome of ending plastic pollution in the U.S.

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  • Date: 14 June 2023

Plastic is everywhere in our daily lives—it keeps our food fresh, it makes our packages more efficient to ship, and it’s in the personal protection equipment (PPE) that helped save lives during the global pandemic. However, despite the reliance our world has on plastic, one thing is for certain—the waste it creates is taking over our planet. It pollutes our air, our soil, and is even threatening our water, with an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic entering our ocean every year.

By examining how we source, design, dispose, and reuse plastic materials we can create a circular system that values truly necessary products and packaging, reimagines how plastic can be reused, and incentivizes recycling programs.

And in South Korea, this is exactly what WWF and The Coca-Cola Company are working to do.

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  • Date: 02 June 2023
  • Author: By Erin Simon, Vice President for Plastic Waste & Business, World Wildlife Fund

Rushing from events to meetings and back again, I almost forgot to look around and take in the beauty of Paris. The historic landmarks, the stunning architecture, and the river that winds through the city are normally showstoppers, but this week my mind was squarely focused on one thing – plastic pollution – something that is deteriorating the beauty and health of our cities, rivers and coastal communities around the world.

This past week, world leaders gathered in Paris with one mission – to make progress toward securing a UN Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution. The calls from civil society, business, scientific and youth voices all rallying for an ambitious and effective treaty could be heard loud and clear. From briefing events to art installations, the ‘city of light’ illuminated with passion for solving the global plastic crisis, as pressure was applied on UN Member States to get the job done at INC-2. But did they?

Frustration set in early, as a small number of governments caused a nearly two-day delay in negotiations by challenging provisionally agreed to – but not yet adopted – rules of procedure. This slowdown, while an anticipated tactic, threatened the process and reduced the amount of time negotiators could spend discussing the substantive aspects of the treaty. By mid-week a temporary resolution was in place to move the talks forward.

As the discussions advanced beyond procedural matters, a clear picture emerged that tangible progress could be made during INC-2. By the close of the negotiations, a majority of governments were aligned with WWF’s vision for what a successful treaty should look like and were calling for comprehensive binding rules across the full lifecycle of plastic and for global bans on high-risk and unnecessary plastic materials, like the single-use products that far too often end up in our environment with devastating effects. Importantly, a mandate was also issued for governments to deliver a “zero draft” – essentially a working outline of the treaty, ahead of INC-3 – which is set to take place in Nairobi, Kenya in November.

  • INC2

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Erin Simon Vice President of Plastic Waste and Business, WWF speaks at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • INC2 Norway

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Espen Barth Eide, Minister of Climate and the Environment, Norway; Co-Chair, High Ambition Coalition speaks at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • INC2 Rawanda

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Minister of Environment, Rwanda; Co-Chair, High Ambition Coalition speaks at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • Civil Society INC2

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Dr. Jenna Jambeck, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering, University of Georgia, Dr. Shahriar Hossain, Environment and Social Development Organization, and Betty Osei Bonsu, Country Manager, Green Africa Youth Organization speak at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • Inger INC2

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Inger Andersen Under-Secretary-General, United Nations; Executive Director, UN Environment Programme  speaks at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • Business INC2

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Members of the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever, Leanne Geale, Executive Vice President, Nestlé, and Michael Goltzman, Vice President, Global Policy & Sustainability, The Coca-Cola Company speak at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • Marco INC2

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Marco Lambertini Special Envoy and Former Director General, WWF speaks at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

  • room INC2

    High Ambition Briefing - Paris

    Full room to hear a lineup of multistakeholder speakers at the High Ambition Briefing ahead of INC-2

Looking ahead to the next round of negotiations, the global community and players across the plastics value chain must continue to come together and call for increased ambition if we’re going to end up with a treaty that will truly help solve this crisis.

The treaty process must move us toward a circular economy for plastic, and businesses are uniquely positioned to make this transition easier for countries by helping to deliver the solutions needed to get there. Leading companies from the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty understand this, and have been visible and vocal throughout the negotiations, using their outsized voice for good. The coalition supports a treaty that includes regulations on reduction, circulation and prevention alongside remediation, all key factors in a holistic approach to ending plastic pollution.

The voice of the public is equally important. Accounting for 5% of the world’s population, as a nation, the US generates three times more waste than the global average. Our country is part of the problem, but we must also be part of the solution. With 77% of Americans agreeing that too many products are made of plastic and that the waste it creates is a problem, our leaders have an obligation to secure a legally binding treaty that will eliminate production of harmful plastics, deliver a circular approach for the plastic that remains, and ensure that no plastic ends up in nature.

From start to finish, INC-2 was a rollercoaster with twists and turns and highs and lows but in the end, the progress needed was achieved to move the treaty forward. As I reflect on the week and as we look ahead to INC-3 and beyond, it will be useful for me, but also for governments, businesses and individuals to stop and think about the beauty they will miss in this world if these negotiations fail. This process holds the key to shaping a future free of plastic pollution. There is momentum, there will be more challenges, but together, we can turn off the tap of plastic waste and deliver a treaty that ensures a healthier future for people and the planet.

  • Date: 25 May 2023
  • Author: Jess Zeuner, Program Specialist, Plastic & Material Science, WWF

In the minds of many consumers, the products we buy 'begin’ when they hit our store shelves.

Of course, we know they came from somewhere – but not often do we stop and consider the full life cycle of a product, the origin of the materials that make it up, or the environmental footprint that began long ago, the moment those materials were sourced.

As we strive for a future economy no longer dependent on fossil fuel, we have the opportunity to reduce the carbon intensity of materials we use every day. From packaging, to textiles, to the automotive industry – the benefits of replacing fossil carbon with renewable carbon derived from plants could extend to a wide range of industrial and consumer goods applications. The potential climate benefits of the bioeconomy are immense – however, transitioning to plant-based production relies heavily on agricultural and forestry industries, both of which can have serious social and environmental impacts.

Careful decision-making and responsible sourcing are essential for the production and management of biobased materials, especially considering the increasingly important issues of food security, land competition, water, climate change, biodiversity loss, and safe labor practices.

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