Plastic pollution war being won — report

Almost 200 businesses and governments are changing their plastic production and use to tame pollution

In Summary

• Kenya banned single-use plastic bags in August 2017 in support of the 'New plastics economy global commitment'

• A progress report has found 70 per cent compliance among signatories in eliminating single-use straws, carrier bags and carbon black plastics

Hawkers on the streets of Nairobi.
Hawkers on the streets of Nairobi.

The world is making promising strides towards addressing plastic pollution, a new report has shown.

The 'New plastics economy global commitment 2019 progress' report shows that some of the most commonly identified problematic plastic items and materials are being eliminated at scale.

For example, around 70 per cent of signatories to the global commitment are eliminating single-use straws, carrier bags and carbon black plastics, and around 80 per cent are eliminating PVC from their packaging.


The report was published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with Unep. It aims to provide an unprecedented level of transparency on how almost 200 businesses and governments are changing their plastic production and use to achieve this.

Sander Defruyt, new plastics economy lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said, “Around the world, people are calling for businesses and governments to take action to stop plastic pollution. Leading businesses and governments stepped forward by signing the global commitment, and we can now see promising early progress, he said.

“This includes major commitments to reduce the use of virgin plastic, the introduction of reuse pilot projects and an unprecedented demand for recycled plastic in packaging.

Kenya banned single-use plastic bags in August 2017. Carrier bags with handles, with or without gussets, or flat bags without handles and with or without gussets are not allowed in the Kenyan market.

Being found with plastics draws a fine of Sh2 million-Sh4 million, or a jail term of between one and two years, or both.

Kenya has also announced a ban on single-use plastics in beaches, national parks, forests and conservation areas.


President Uhuru Kenyatta made the announcement when he addressed the opening plenary of Day 3 of Women Deliver 2019 Conference, in Vancouver Canada in June. He said the ban will take effect on June 5, 2020.

The new annual report is being released 12 months after the launch of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which sets out a circular economy vision for plastic.

Launched in October 2018, the Global Commitment now has over 400 organisations committed to eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging, and undertaking innovations so that all plastic packaging is 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable, as well as safely and easily circulated without becoming waste or pollution.

Beyond bans, signatories, including governments like Rwanda, the UK and Chile, and cities of Sao Paulo and Austin, to name a few, are putting in place a diverse set of policy measures, ranging from public procurement and extended producer responsibility schemes to public awareness campaigns, fiscal measures and incentives for research and development.

However, Defruyt cautions that there is still much to be done to win the war on plastic pollution. “There is a long way to go and it is crucial these efforts are accelerated and scaled, and more businesses and governments take action to eliminate plastic pollution at the source.”

Examples of corporate progress cited include: Unilever has announced it will reduce its use of virgin plastic in packaging by 50 per cent; Mars, Incorporated said it will make reductions of 25 per cent by 2025; and PepsiCo aims to reduce the use of virgin plastic in its beverage business by 20 per cent by 2025. 

Unep executive director Inger Andersen said addressing plastic pollution requires a fundamental system shift from a linear to a circular economy for plastic, which is at the core of the new plastics economy global commitment.

"The 2019 progress report shows how leading businesses and governments are taking actions in such a systemic way, thus demonstrating this makes business and political sense. The benefits represent a huge opportunity, and the concerted approach leaves no excuses not to act,” she said.

“We need all actors to work together in the plastic pollution crises: UN Environment Programme calls on all relevant businesses and governments to join the global commitment to fight against plastic pollution as part of the implementation plan, ‘Towards a pollution-free planet’.” 

Analysis carried out for the report shows that on average, 60 per cent of business signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable today.

Through the global commitment, they have committed to making this 100 per cent by 2025.

Packaged goods and retail signatories have pledged to increase recycled plastic in packaging more than five-fold, from four to 22 per cent, by 2025.

The signatories’ total demand for recycled content in packaging by 2025 will be more than 5 million tonnes annually, equivalent to keeping 25 million barrels of oil in the ground every year.

The next global commitment progress report will be published in 2020, and every year following up to 2025.