The Role of Business

Plastics were a hallmark of 20th century innovation, and remain part of many of our most trusted products. While a sustainable future includes plastic, plastic pollution is threatening the planet’s ability to sustain life.

A victory over plastic pollution can be the hallmark of 21st-century innovation, but only if all of us—individuals, communities, governments, and businesses—commit to being “all in” on reducing plastics’ presence and negative impacts.

The UN Global Treaty on Plastics is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end plastics pollution, as negotiators from 175 nations, with the active participation of the business sector, build a coalition via a series of convenings held around the world. Among the outcomes are concrete actions and timelines for each group of stakeholders, which includes businesses of all sizes and types worldwide.

The fourth of this series of negotiations, INC-4, takes place in Ottawa, Canada in April, with the fifth and final negotiation taking place in Busan, South Korea in November. Nearing the end of the negotiating process, the next two meetings will be focused on making evidence-based decisions to deliver a final treaty by the end of 2024 that achieves the outcome our planet needs. WWF advocates for establishing specific and common regulations targeting high-risk plastic products and uses along the full lifecycle of plastics.

The success of the treaty will depend on whether it establishes:

  • Global bans, phaseouts and phasedowns of problematic and avoidable plastic products and uses, and of plastic polymers and chemicals of concern;
  • Global requirements for product design and systems, securing a safe and non-toxic circular economy, prioritizing reuse, and improving recycling, and securing the environmentally sound management of plastic waste; and
  • Strong implementation support measures, including sufficient financial support and alignment of public and private financial flows.


What does this mean for businesses in terms of impact and action?

Consider that more virgin plastic products were made in the past 15 years than in the entire 20th century. With 20% of plastic becoming litter, more pollution is flowing into nature. We can control high-risk plastics through six main paths: Ban, Phase-Out, Reduce, Redesign, Recirculate and Manage.

Businesses large and small are uniquely able to draw and hold the attention of government leaders and consumers alike. Further, their innovations and actions set the pace that others follow. Thus, it is critical that businesses do not just “sign on” to the treaty but follow through on binding commitments they make as participants.

However, negotiators recognize that businesses rely on certainty and risk reduction to plan for the future. Thus, a treaty goal is to ensure all governments and businesses play by the same, binding rules for plastic production, reuse, and disposal. This will make it easier and more cost-effective for all types of businesses to realize their full potential to make an impact.

The following are some of WWF’s recommended baseline actions for business:

  1. Engage employees, suppliers, and producers to reduce the use of high-risk and single-use plastic products, and source more sustainable solutions from raw materials to packaging.
  2. Reduce companies’ impacts on nature by eliminating unnecessary plastic, improve the sustainability of plastic necessary to keep food fresh and hospitals safe, and advocate for policies that support sound reuse and recycling infrastructure.
  3. Eliminate unnecessary plastic through business model innovation, reduction, and substitution.
  4. Establish or support product-design requirements to enable large-scale reuse and non-toxic recycling.
  5. Set public commitments that will comply with the new international regulatory standards; track and follow standardized reporting that will be set out by CDP or via WWF’s Plastic Footprint Tracker.
  6. “Acknowledge-Respond-React” to ever-changing buyer behavior and B2G/B2B/B2C trends. Why?
    • 85% of consumers have become ‘greener’ in their purchasing in recent years.
    • More than a third of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainability as demand grows for environmentally friendly alternatives.

Our shared healthy future requires a phased approach that marries urgency with pragmatism. Voluntary actions are helpful, but a global treaty with binding rules is better for everyone. Taking action now not only gets businesses ahead of a coming regulatory curve, it marks them as leaders others wish to follow and support. And that’s just good business.


Learn more about how business can support a global plastics treaty to end plastic pollution

Learn more about how the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty is bringing together businesses and financial institutions committed to supporting the development of an ambitious, effective and legally binding UN treaty to end plastic pollution.

 ©Greg Armfield