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Episode 99: The Future of the Plastics Value Chain

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You will meet Erin Simon, head of Plastic Waste + Business at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in this week’s Waste360 NothingWasted! Podcast.

WWF works in nearly 100 countries on collaborating, developing, and delivering innovative solutions that protect communities, wildlife, and the places in which they live. The organization’s efforts are designed to ensure that “the value of nature is reflected in decision-making from a local to a global scale.”

We spoke with Simon about the importance of data and policy in driving plastic-waste improvements, the U.S. Plastics Pact, and more.

Here are some highlights from the discussion:

Waste360: Can you tell me about the WWF ReSource: Plastic hub?

Simon: In 2015, research came out that showed we weren’t addressing all of the issues of the broken system related to plastic waste. We were asking companies to make plastic more recyclable and to use more recycled content, but we weren’t really honing in on the other key stakeholders and the full scope of work that needed to be done. As that science emerged and ambitious commitments began to be made, companies would come to us and say, “Am I doing this right?” It was this moment where I was like, “I’d love to be able to give you that information, but I need to understand better what your impact is.” And so, we saw a gap in all of the activities that were happening.

Companies had raised the level of ambition for what they were going to do, but there was not a clear roadmap on how to get there. WWF launched Resource: Plastic as the implementation hub to move from that ambition to meaningful, measureable change that could scale. It includes a plastic footprint tracker to help them understand their impact. And through tools like this they can see they are part of the whole.

Waste360: What sort of progress have you seen since launching the hub?

Simon: We launched it in 2019, and in 2020, we put together our first inaugural report for it. The first five companies that participated were Coca-Cola, P&G, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Keurig Dr Pepper; those five companies agreed to pilot this reporting tool with us. This was a big deal because it really pulled back the curtain on what was happening with their plastic waste footprints, and making that public. And it allowed us to showcase shared challenges and opportunities, and provide a baseline. Our hope is that by 2030, those five companies plus 95 of their closest friends will be showing improvement of over 50 million metric tons of reduced waste.

Waste360: You recently wrote about the idea of plastic crediting; can you talk a little about that?

Simon: You always see a lot of innovation and ideas emerge as different organizations are trying to help be a part of finding solutions. And as we’ve seen in other areas, the idea of credits came out as something that should be explored. We see plastic crediting as a potential additional approach to plastic-reduction strategies if there could be strong and credible standards that could be governed, and strong social and environmental safeguards upheld. And, crediting should be supported by transparent footprint reporting. Really we just want to make sure that the net impact we’re looking to see with those credits is actually happening.

Waste360: Do you have any advice for those in the waste and recycling industry?

Simon: I think they have this really helpful role to play. They provide an opportunity for a next life for plastic materials, so they have a huge opportunity to influence discussions being had around design standards; what they want in their system; how to improve efficiency in the recycling system; and how to better engage communities.

Read the transcript here.

#NothingWastedPodcast

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