We can’t do it alone. The scale of the challenge is too big – and the stakes are too immense – the issue is too complex – for any one company, one organization or even one country to solve this issue.
Later this month, negotiators from 160 countries will meet in Paris to continue work on creating an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. Called the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), these meetings – which will stretch over the next two years – will play a significant role in shaping how plastics are produced, designed, used, and ultimately managed.
We at Dow – along with many others across industry, governments, and NGOs – support this work and believe such an agreement could help end plastics pollution by accelerating the transition to a circular economy. We all believe in a future where plastics are sustainably produced, designed, used, reused, and recycled, thereby creating new value and greater purpose for plastic waste. In doing so, we will also be able to preserve a critical link in securing a low-carbon economy.
To understand why these negotiations are so critical, we also need to understand why plastic itself is so important. Without plastic, how would we preserve food and water for people in remote locations? How would we maintain hygiene practices in healthcare?
Plastic not only plays a vital role in life as we know it and our economy, it is also an essential part of our journey toward a low-carbon and circular future. In fact, we can’t deliver a low-carbon future without plastics.
The challenge we all face, however, is how we manage plastics waste. Much of the plastic used around the world goes unrecovered after use and today very little that can be recycled is recycled. North America, for example, has a plastic recycling rate of only 11 percent, the lowest regional recycling rate in the world. China and SE Asia recycle plastics at a 20 percent rate, developed Asia is at 26 percent, and Western Europe is at 32 percent.1
Not all countries are starting their efforts to solve the problem from the same spot. Many developing countries, for instance, are struggling with inadequate recycling infrastructure for ALL materials while others – due to political or economic instability – lack the capacity to enact national policies.
Poorly managed plastic waste not only denies us a valuable recycling resource, but it can also contribute to environmental and ecological challenges.
Many organizations – including Dow – have significantly increased their work to end plastic waste and accelerate a more circular economy. Dow has more than 20 active partnerships, for example, and has deep commitments to help solve this issue and deliver circular economy solutions. As part of our sustainability targets, for instance, we intend to transform the waste to deliver three million metric tons per year of circular and renewable solutions by 2030.
Dow has been innovating solutions to enable packaging recyclability and partnering to build materials ecosystems to increase the value of waste and build new systems to collect, reuse, and recycle waste. This in turn will allow us to scale our ability to produce circular and low-carbon emission solutions.
But we can’t do it alone. The scale of the challenge is too big – the stakes are too immense – the issue is too complex – for any one company, one organization or even one country to solve this issue.
In our view, the world needs an effective and implementable agreement that supports the national implementation of ambitious and realistic targets. A Global Plastics agreement – if constructed well – offers the world a unique opportunity to build a more effective circular economy and stop plastic pollution while also recognizing the valuable role plastic plays in creating a low-carbon future.
An effective agreement would:
We can do this. Working across the value chain – working collaboratively – working in tandem with our many stakeholders – I’m confident we can develop an international agreement that both recognizes the many societal benefits of plastic while also creating a robust future where plastics are sustainably produced, designed, used, reused, and recycled in a circular economy.
Jim Fitterling, Dow Chairman and CEO
1 US EPA, Plastics Europe, Japan Plastic Waste Management Institute, KORA, Australia National Waste Report, China CPRA, Brazil Abiplast, PlastIndia