Author Charlotte Macdonald | Editor: Neil Sandy
A multiplicity of standards, frameworks and metrics exist that are meant to inform our choices when considering how to report and reduce our plastic impact. Confusing? Yes. Overwhelming? Quite possibly. Disclosures and commitments are obviously a step in the right direction, but these disclosures mean nothing if we don’t have the tools and guidance to decisively reduce our plastic impact. Even then, is this enough?
April 2023 saw the CDPs environmental disclosure go live on reporting plastic measurements (CDP 2023). This was largely driven at the request of investors with approximately $130 trillion in assets, reflecting the behavioural change and motivations of the global finance community towards a circular economy society. This disclosure will include and require 6,743 companies worldwide to respond to a request from 740 investors to disclose plastic-related impacts through the CDP.
This disclosure includes measurements on the “most problematic” plastics and their use, including:
This appetite for change is largely investor driven but reflects a wider-scale attitude change towards a need for transparency and a desire for action to reduce our global plastic impact.
Presently, 100 petrochemical companies produce 90% of all single-use plastic waste globally and almost every bit of plastic created on our planet still exists due to their slow decomposition rate and inefficient recycling infrastructure.
Disclosing your plastic impact is one thing but actively reducing your impact and the impact across your supply chain as a whole will be a significant task. Tool kits including best practice advice, the likes of which IRIS+ has released, are becoming more and more accessible to organisations that are seeking to reduce their own impact, rather than just disclose it.
The Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) was modelled after the equivalent water and carbon reporting programmes. It enables manufacturers, businesses and municipalities (the latter of which is often forgotten to be key for implementing change) to measure their plastic baselines (PDP 2023). Alongside providing tools to measure these baselines, it encourages efficiencies in plastic use, reuse and recycling, broadens awareness of risks to brands and investors whilst highlighting opportunities that can come from better plastic management, focusing on bringing value to plastic in its second life.
A variety of other initiatives exist to enable us to monitor and set baseline metrics for plastic impacts and waste. For example, Plastic Smart Cities created an early standard methodology on a city by city basis (for participating cities) that enables the measurement of a plastic baseline and allows for long-term monitoring and evaluation towards their targets (Plastic Smart Cities 2023).
We cannot just be doing environmental and social “good” in the space of our own organisation. To have any chance of obtaining a sustainable society, investments and businesses must be analysing their supply chains for where plastic impacts can be reduced.
We can only move as fast as our slowest player, or more specifically as our slowest companies to take up these initiatives. Investment auditors and the growing sector of sustainability consultants are increasingly incorporating this into their certification standards. Third party certifications such as BCorp Certification and the Future Fit Business Benchmark encourage such behaviours to obtain their certifications.
Incentivising organisations to reduce their plastic impact is key. 2021 saw the launch of a Plastic Stewardship Initiative which included Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship and a Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (Plastic Standard) (Verra 2021). The Guidelines, which were co-developed by South Pole, The 3R Initiative, EA and Quantis, provide best practice advice for transparently quantifying and reporting on plastic footprints, leakages and plastic waste reduction commitments. The Plastic Standard, developed and managed by Verra, permits companies to purchase “plastic credits” from projects that collect and recycle plastic waste and that meet the Verra standards, thereby investing in these companies.
Disclosures cannot alleviate our plastic nightmare alone. Decisive and strategic action to reduce plastic footprints, with the drive to do the same across a company’s entire supply chain provides a clear path forward, or at least a better path for achieving sustainability and living responsibly. What’s key here is not losing sight of our commitments amongst the multiplicity of plastics disclosures that exist out there.
CDP (2023) CDP’s environmental disclosure system opens for reporting on plastics for first time at request of investors with US$130+ trillion in assets. Available at: https://www.cdp.net/en/articles/media/cdps-environmental-disclosure-system-opens-for-reporting-on-plastics-for-first-time-at-request-of-investors-with-us130-trillion-in-assets.
PDP (2023) Plastic disclosure project: Environmental reporting: Global. Available at: https://www.plasticdisclosure.org/.
Plastic Smart Cities (2023). Baseline assessment Available at: https://plasticsmartcities.org/plastic-smart-cities-guides/baseline-assessment/.
Verra (2021): Press Release New plastic stewardship initiative creates incentives for companies to reduce plastic waste. Available at: https://verra.org/new-plastic-stewardship-initiative/#:~:text=The%20plastic%20stewardship%20initiative%20creates,livelihoods%20and%20protect%20marine%20ecosystems.
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