Leaders at the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, turned up the heat on the ocean plastics issue by signing an agreement meant to boost recycling and reduce single-use plastics. The move was met with skepticism from some environmentalists, who are hungry for specific policies to tackle the problem, and by accelerated efforts from the plastics industry, which increasingly finds itself on the defensive.
Five countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K.—as well as the European Union—signed the Ocean Plastics Charter. The U.S. and Japan abstained.
The document calls for working with industry to make all plastics reusable, recyclable, or recoverable by 2030. Additionally, the leaders want to recycle or reuse 55% of plastic packaging by 2030 and recover all plastics by 2040. They also want to significantly reduce single-use plastics.
The agreement seeks to address marine litter in “global hot spots” by helping such places develop waste management infrastructure. A lack of infrastructure makes some developing countries—namely China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam—the source of a majority of the plastics that wind up in the sea.
Additionally, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $100 million towards marine litter and plastic pollution.
“Plastics are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century and play an important role in our economy and daily lives,” the charter says. “However, the current approach to producing, using, managing, and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods, and potentially to human health.”
The Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group known for collaborating with industry, says the G7 leaders demonstrated a “new level of leadership” by signing the charter.
Greenpeace, another environmental group, says the charter doesn’t go far enough. “While the leadership to outline a common blueprint is good news, voluntary charters focused on recycling and repurposing will not solve the problem at the source,” says Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan. “Governments must move beyond voluntary agreements to legislate binding reduction targets and bans on single-use plastics.”
While the U.S. didn’t sign the document, the American Chemistry Council, a leading trade group, is reacting to the mounting pressure on plastics. ACC CEO Cal Dooley has delayed his retirement by one year to the end of 2019 to lead the industry response to the plastics waste issue.
“While plastic products provide countless health, safety, lifestyle, and sustainability benefits, those benefits cannot be fully realized unless we take swift and aggressive actions to ... dramatically increase rates of reuse, recycling, and recovery,” Dooley says.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which advocates for a circular economy, says it will form a coalition of governments and businesses aimed at eliminating plastic waste. It says the effort will build on its New Plastics Economy initiative, which involves consumer product companies like Coca-Cola, Danone, and Pepsi, as well as chemical makers such as BASF, DuPont, and Novamont.