Burberry, H&M, Unilever and More Sign Commitment to Address Global 'Plastics Crisis'

With signatories producing 20 percent of all the plastic packaging on the globe, the initiative has potential for real impact.
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Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

When plastic was first invented, it seemed like a miracle material; it was more lightweight, waterproof and durable than almost anything that had come before. In the many decades since, plastic has become so ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine a world without it — but if production continues at its current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. In fact, we're now living in the midst of what environmentalists have dubbed a "plastics crisis."

"Plastic waste and pollution is one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our age," said Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti in a press release.

Gobbetti's not alone in his concern. On Monday, a consortium of brands including Burberry, H&M, L'Oreal, Inditex, Selfridges, Stella McCartney, Target and Unilever announced their commitment to "eradicate plastic waste and pollution at the source" by signing the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, according to a press release. Created by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in partnership with UN Environment, the Commitment was also signed by the Chilean and British governments and a host of non-profits.

"We know that cleaning up plastics from our beaches and oceans is vital, but this does not stop the tide of plastic entering the oceans each year," said Dame Ellen MacArthur in a release. "We need to move upstream to the source of the flow. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment draws a line in the sand, with businesses, governments and others around the world uniting behind a clear vision for what we need to create a circular economy for plastic."

On a tangible level, the Commitment seeks to address plastic pollution with three concrete targets. The first is to eliminate superfluous plastic packaging and move away from single-use plastics. The second encourages innovation, with the hope that all plastics would be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. Lastly, the third deals with keeping existing plastic in circulation longer before it's thrown away, either by reusing it or recycling it into new products. These targets are due for review every 18 months, with the intent to make them even more ambitious over time.

For brands that aligned themselves with the Commitment, signing means more than just expressing good intentions: It requires that they publish their progress every year so that they can be held accountable for what they said they were going to do. Considering that the signatories include companies representing 20 percent of all the plastic packaging produced on the globe, this initiative has the potential to create a significant impact. Add to that the fact that over $200 million has been pledged by venture capital funds to support the creation of a circular economy for plastic, and there's even more cause for hope.

"Plastic waste and pollution is a big global environmental challenge," Cecilia Brännsten, environmental sustainability manager for H&M, said in a release. "There is no single brand that can tackle this industry-wide challenge on its own. We must act as one voice and the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is a big step in the right direction, as it will align business and governments on a common agenda and timeframe."

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