- Date: 15 February 2022
- Author: Alix Grabowski, Director, Plastic and Material Science, WWF
We all know that plastic waste is a global crisis, but how often do you think about where plastic comes from?
Of all new plastic, 99% is made from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, meaning the plastic that we use today starts trashing our planet long before it becomes trash. From the moment they’re made, these conventional plastics are contributing to climate change, degrading habitats, and threatening communities around the world.
Reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic are priority first steps in addressing the plastic crisis, but we cannot rely on these tactics alone. We will always need some new plastic to fill critical health and safety needs, but that new plastic does not need to be made from fossil fuels.
Plant-based plastic—also known as bioplastic or biobased plastic—comes from sources like algae, sugarcane, or used cooking oil, and can de-couple plastic production from the impacts of fossil fuels. However, plant-based plastic must be thoughtfully designed to build environmental, social, and economic resilience across ecosystems and communities. Over a decade ago, WWF realized that plant-based plastic and its sourcing was a cross-cutting issue that affected the habitats, wildlife, and people that we aim to protect. We convened the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) in 2012 to advance knowledge on this critical and complex topic and ensure that plant-based plastic reaches its potential to benefit nature and people.
New Transparent Report Showcases How Corporate Action is Measuring Up to Progress on the Plastic Waste Crisis
- Date: 08 December 2021
- Author: Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste and Business
Transparency is a critical piece to any corporate sustainability journey, as it raises the bar for accountability which in turn accelerates action. And for the plastic waste crisis, when corporate transparency is paired with cross-sector collaboration, we break down silos and unlock access to new data that sheds light into where and how companies can make the most impact on plastic pollution.
That’s why in 2019, WWF set out to find a way to expand transparency around plastic waste by launching ReSource: Plastic to ask – how can companies really make a difference on plastic waste? With the release of Transparent 2021, our second annual report from the ReSource program, we’re starting to be able to answer that question and it’s helping us fill in that “how” gap.
- Date: 17 November 2021
Can plastic made from plants solve the plastic pollution crisis? The answer is no, not exactly; but, plant-based plastic (also known as bio-based plastic or bioplastic) will play a role in charting a path towards circularity.
Plastic production and pollution have been growing for decades, with lasting impacts to ecosystems around the world, with no end in sight unless we change course today. Fortunately, we can, by transforming our broken linear systems into circular ones. This will require a multi-faceted approach, including a combination of strategies focused on plastic reduction, reuse, and recycling. One of the key outcomes we'll need to see is the shift away from fossil-based plastic which has been a key feature of the take-make-waste linear economy fueling the environmental crisis today.
Currently, 99% of new plastic is made from fossil fuels, meaning the plastic that we use today starts trashing our planet long before it becomes trash. From the moment they’re made, these conventional plastics are contributing to climate change, degrading habitats, and threatening communities around the world.
But, even the most functional of circular economies will still require some new plastic to meet our most critical needs, like keeping our foods fresh and our medications safe.
The good news is that there is a better path forward. Sustainable inputs – primarily, post-consumer recycled content and responsibly sourced plant-based plastic – will power circular economies. They can supply the material we need, but without relying on fossil fuels to produce new (or virgin) plastic. A strong supply of post-consumer recycled plastic in combination with responsibly sourced plant-based plastic, means we will no longer need to rely on fossil fuels to meet our remaining need for new plastic.
Plastic made from seaweed, sugar beets, or other plants can be an important part of the solution.
However, not all plant-based plastic is good for the environment. In order to serve as a truly sustainable alternative, the material must be thoughtfully designed to build environmental, social, and economic resilience across ecosystems and communities. WWF convenes the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, a multi-stakeholder working group formed by some of the world's leading companies to advance knowledge of bioplastics and their potential social and environmental impacts. The BFA has developed a shared sustainability assessment for plant-based plastics to help actors make thoughtful decisions about biobased plastic sourcing, and drive change at scale.
Responsibly sourced plant-based plastic must also look beyond the benefits at the point of sourcing, to consider what will happen to the plant-based plastic after it has been used. Waste management practices, including collection, recycling, and composting, must be in place to ensure that this type of plastic can be effectively recovered and recirculated through the plastic system, and not end up as waste.
WWF continues to lead the charge to help reimagine how we source, design, and reuse the plastic materials communities most depend upon. Plant-based plastics represent an opportunity to reduce the negative impacts associated with the traditional sourcing of plastic from fossil fuels, and perhaps even contribute to the local economies, ecosystems, and resilience of communities in which they're grown. But plant-based or fossil-based, plastic has no place in nature.
For more information, visit the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance website here or check out WWF's Position on Biobased and Biodegradable Plastic.
- Date: 13 October 2021
- Author: Tessa Bellone, WWF
In just a few decades, plastic has become ubiquitous in our everyday lives. The rapid rise of this lightweight and convenient material has supported critical services in our food and medical industries, helping advance society to where we are today. Yet despite its benefits, plastic waste is choking our planet -- polluting the water, air, and soil that people and wildlife need to survive. As this crisis spreads to every corner of the globe, we must reimagine how we source, design, dispose of, and reuse the plastic materials communities most depend on.
For ideas to solve today’s broken system, we can start by looking at the past. Before the explosion of single-use plastic, many services relied on the reuse of valuable materials to keep costs down. Think of the 19th century milkman -- collecting, refilling, and delivering an essential product to consumers using the same high-quality containers countless times. Modern refrigeration may have driven the milkman obsolete by the 1950s, however the concept of sustainable reuse systems deserves a second look today.
- Date: 15 July 2021
Plastic pollution is rapidly becoming one of the most devastating issues facing our planet – yet despite this growing crisis, plastic plays a vital role in our society. From keeping our food fresh to supporting life-saving medical devices, plastic is deeply imbedded in many of our essential services. Getting rid of it is not an option, nor should it be the goal.
Even in a circular economy that maximizes the reuse, recovery, and recycling of all plastic, some virgin plastic will still be necessary because no material is capable of infinite recycling without losses to quality and quantity. Many industries will continue to require virgin plastic to maintain health and safety standards.
To truly curb the plastic pollution crisis, we must therefore adopt a multifaceted approach – one in which we not only push for the transition to a circular system, but also utilize renewable and responsibly sourced feedstocks to replenish essential lost material. While currently 99% of new plastics are made from harmful fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, an emerging plant-based plastic market could provide a more sustainable alternative. Plant-based plastics – made from seaweed, sugar beet and other plants – can serve a strong complementary role to a circular economy while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
However, to yield true positive impacts, plant-based materials must be responsibly sourced and managed. That’s why World Wildlife Fund initiated the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) in 2013, convening some of the world’s leading consumer brands to advance our knowledge of plant-based plastics and to explore the potential environmental and social impacts of these materials. With much still unknown, one thing is clear: the solution must not exacerbate the problem.
The BFA is therefore calling on policy makers to ensure any future policy on plastic alternatives is grounded in science. In the race to realize a circular economy, plant-based plastics will be key – however policies should require sustainability metrics be used to evaluate their production and sourcing, looking at environmental indicators such as water use, carbon emissions, and impacts on communities and wildlife. Not only will this approach guarantee plant-based plastics remain responsibly managed, but it will incentivize continuous improvement that ultimately leads to the lowest environmental impact.
Achieving a circular plastic system will require bold and innovative solutions – yet choosing the right solutions will involve navigating complex tradeoffs. New policies in the plant-based plastics space must be based on credible sustainability science to maximize positive environmental impacts. Only then can we transition to a more circular plastic system, one that benefits both people and the planet.
You can read the BFA’s full Call for Science-Based Policy on Plastic Alternatives here.
The Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance provides thought leadership on the responsible sourcing of bioplastics, and the role of bioplastic in circular systems. The BFA explores the latest science to advance knowledge of bioplastics and their social and environmental impacts. The BFA aims to ensure bioplastics ultimately contribute to a more sustainable flow of materials, to create lasting value for present and future generations. Visit https://bioplasticfeedstockalliance.org/ for more information.
- Date: 28 December 2020
- Author: Anthony Tusino, Program Officer, Policy & Government Affairs
Over the past year, it is estimated that 10 million metric tons of plastic waste have entered the world’s oceans. Our traditional linear economy—where we use, consume and throw away plastics at an alarming rate—has created a world where plastic is found in almost every habitat; from neighborhoods to forests to waterways, and even the deepest point in the ocean. The time to end plastic pollution is now. We have made encouraging progress over the past year, with more than 750,000 activists calling on governments around the world to solve the plastic crisis. WWF is proud to share the progress we have made in 2020 and look forward to a future free of plastic waste.
Advancing National Policy
In 2020, the call to curb plastic pollution was heard on Capitol Hill. The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act builds on the success of existing legislation to better understand the impact of plastic on our environment, to establish U.S. leadership in combating waste leakage and development of materials recycling, and to combat marine debris by investing in new technology. The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act will set the stage for new national action to combat marine debris and advance effective waste management.
The introduction of the Break Free From Plastic Act has advanced national conversations around our domestic reliance on virgin plastic. We cannot fix our linear economy by focusing only on the management of plastic waste. We must reevaluate the ways in which we use and rely on plastic. Extended Producer Responsibility mechanisms, like those in the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, have the potential to reduce consumers’ reliance on virgin materials while simultaneously allowing for new investment in our recycling systems and ensuring that plastic producers are responsible for the waste they create. WWF supports a domestic Extended Producer Responsibility system where consumers, corporations and governments can work toward a truly circular economy. In 2021, we are looking forward to advancing this national movement.
Reflecting on the past year, WWF has made incredible progress in understanding the impact of plastic on our natural world and how we can work with partners in the private sector to advance our vision for a circular economy. In June, we released Transparent 2020, the first report of our ReSource: Plastic Footprint Tracker pilot effort. We tracked the footprint of five major companies and found they accounted for 4.2 million metric tons of plastic waste, 70% of which is either landfilled or mismanaged. By understanding the footprint of large corporations, we can better understand and provide recommendations for what interventions need to be taken to reduce those footprints, including suggestions for redesign of packaging to eliminate unnecessary plastic, or by shifting to sustainable inputs.
Recognizing the impact that our commercial fishing practices have on the health of our oceans, we released the comprehensive report “Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of plastic debris” in October. The report spotlights the problem of abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear (ghost gear), which makes up 10% of the ocean’s plastic waste and impacts 66% of marine mammals, 50% of seabirds, and every species of sea turtle. We laid out a series of actions that governments, fishing gear producers and designers, fishers, and the general public can take to tackle it.
We have also worked to transform international conversations around plastic waste and waste management practices. A United Nations Treaty on plastic pollution has been endorsed by almost 2 million global activists and more than two-thirds of UN member states. With the release of “The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution” in October, we found that plastic pollution causes $13 billion in damage to marine ecosystems every year. Together, 31 large corporations have supported the call for an international treaty.
We also launched the U.S. Plastics Pact alongside our partners at The Recycling Partnership and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The Pact focuses on four main goals to remove problematic packaging from our system and work toward an economy that prioritizes the use of recycled content. With more than 80 members spanning industry groups, corporations, state and municipal agencies, national environmental organizations and members of academia, the Pact will release a roadmap to circularity in early 2021, with national footprint tracking and policy recommendations to follow.
In 2020, we have made great progress in understanding the impact that plastic waste has on our communities and our natural world, even amid a pandemic. We have also built on enormous ambition across our members, our private sector partners and national and international policymakers. 2020 was a momentous year for combating plastic waste and 2021 will build on this success to end plastic pollution.
- Date: 14 July 2020
Business is a critical lever for driving the shifts we need to fix the broken plastic system. WWF’s Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) addresses a key piece of this puzzle, the shift towards the responsible sourcing of plant-based plastics, known as bioplastics. To match the scope and scale of this complex task, BFA is structured as a multi-stakeholder forum for knowledge sharing, collaboration, and science-based thought leadership to advance our understanding of bioplastic in a circular economy.
Today, BFA welcomes Kimberly-Clark as the newest member of this ambitious consortium.
- Date: 14 May 2019
- Author: Sheila Bonini, Senior Vice President, Private Sector Engagement
Last summer in an op-ed in the Seattle Times, I called for a plastics revolution. As a society, we were on the brink of rethinking how to tackle our plastic waste crisis, but there wasn’t a clear path on how to get there. Since then, city governments, companies – both big and small – and other stakeholders have made public commitments, from bans on plastic straws and bags to large-scale pledges to reduce, re-source, recycle, and more.
While ambitious commitments are the jumping off point for any successful venture, we know that no single individual, organization, company, or government can tackle the root causes of plastic waste on their own. When it comes to the private sector, commitments move companies in the right direction, but to actually fulfill those commitments, companies need a roadmap for navigating the broken plastics system, a collaborative environment that fosters innovation and aggressive goal-setting, and the right tools to make their bold visions a reality.
That’s why World Wildlife Fund launched ReSource: Plastic, an activation hub designed to close the “how” gap for companies that are ready to move from aspiration to meaningful and measurable action. We’re inspired by the efforts of our Principal Members, including Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Tetra Pak and The Coca-Cola Company, and the work of our Thought Partners Ellen MacArthur Foundation and ocean Conservancy. When leading companies and NGOs unite around comprehensive solutions to the plastics problem – by reducing their own plastic pollution footprint, shifting to bio-sourced and recycled materials, influencing public policy, and shaping consumer behavior – real change happens.
When we first started to think how WWF could help stop the flow of plastic waste into our oceans and other critical ecosystems, we examined our decades-long work with influential corporate partners. We quickly recognized the critical role that private sector collaboration could play in achieving our mission of No Plastic in Nature by 2030. In designing ReSource, we took a three-pronged approach to working with companies:
- Prioritize strategies that will yield the greatest impact.
- Implement those strategies and utilize an innovative methodology to measure progress.
- Collaborate with other companies and key stakeholders to drive new solutions and investments.
We also knew we couldn’t do this alone. Our Thought Partners, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Ocean Conservancy, are already at the forefront of engaging businesses on this issue. Under our leadership, and with their strategic input and guidance, ReSource will be strongly rooted in science and focus exclusively on keeping plastic in the supply loop and out of the environment.
A year into the plastics revolution, I’m thrilled with how far we’ve come, but there’s more work to do. We challenge you to go beyond your commitments and join us. Together, we can show what a future with no plastic in nature actually looks like—a world where oceans, wildlife, communities, and businesses thrive.
Learn more at www.resource-plastic.com.