Working with companies to fix the plastic crisis – on World Oceans Day and every day

A plastic bag underwater

If you’ve ever been to the beach, chances are good that you’ve had a glimpse of one of the biggest problems facing our oceans and other outdoor spaces today: plastic pollution. This plastic waste is much more than an unsightly annoyance. From coastal shores to the Arctic to mangroves, plastic negatively affects all ecosystems. It harms and kills wildlife, pollutes our soil and drinking water, and can jeopardize the livelihoods and communities of millions around the world, especially the most vulnerable, who depend on healthy ocean environments.

While we can and should work to clean up the existing mess of plastic pollution in our environment, the most important first step is to turn off the tap to stop the flow of plastic into our oceans altogether — currently estimated at about a dump-truck full per minute. If we want to reach our goal of No Plastics in Nature by 2030, we have to meet this great problem with an equally great solution. That’s where the power of business can help.

Plastic litter washed up on a beach in Kenya

Plastic waste on a beach in Greece

While consumers have a critical role in stopping plastic pollution, companies must also play a part, changing how the plastic materials they produce are created, used, and disposed of. Companies worldwide know plastic pollution is a major problem, and some are already taking actions to fix it. But what steps should companies prioritize, what investments can they make, and how can they be sure their efforts are making a difference?

In 2019 World Wildlife Fund launched a new global initiative, ReSource: Plastics , to answer those questions. A year later, five leading companies — Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, and The Coca-Cola Company — have taken an unprecedented step toward accountability and action. These companies have worked with WWF to measure how much plastic they are actually using; learning what proportion of it is recycled, virgin, or plant-based; and analyzing where this plastic ends up once disposed of — if it’s re-used, recycled, incinerated, landfilled, or ending up in nature.

With all this data collected and standardized as part of the ReSource Footprint Tracker, we can see the big picture, understand where the plastic system is breaking down and, more importantly, build on existing commitments that these companies have made to maximize their potential for impact. WWF’s first ReSource report, Transparent 2020, we find that member companies should focus on eliminating unnecessary plastics, using more recycled plastic in their production, doubling the global recycling rate, and improving the quality of the data companies are reporting.

The findings in this first report set a baseline, a way to see where these five companies stand now so we can measure the progress they make down the line. Future reports will tell us how well the actions they take are working, and if they aren’t, how we should change course.

Major global companies transparently reporting their plastic footprints and working together to solve the plastic waste crisis is a giant step forward, but we need everyone to step up together; we won’t reach the No Plastic in Nature goal without additional support from individuals and governments. Leading companies are working to do the right thing, but it will take government regulation to get all businesses involved. This means a global, binding agreement signed by government leaders pledging to stop plastic from leaking into the oceans, something we need everyone to advocate for. This global problem impacts all of us, and we can each do our part to make a difference. No matter what, consumers must use less plastic, demand reusable options, and dispose of plastic properly.

We should all aspire to create a future where we can walk down the beach and not stumble across any plastic waste. It will not be an easy goal to reach and it’s going to take a lot of work from everyone, but if more companies take a cue from ReSource members and join this effort, and the rest of us continue to do our part, we can get there together. The health of our oceans and our planet depend on it.