The images are forever seared in our minds: the endangered sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose; iconic beaches turned into trash dumps and floating masses of plastic the size of the state of Texas.

Plastic pollution is a global crisis that is steadily getting worse. By 2050, experts predict our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. Removing the waste and preventing more of it from accumulating in our environment will require all of us to do our part – consumers, governments as well as corporate plastic producers and users.

Spurred by work by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other leading environmental groups, more than 1,000 organizations have united behind a common vision and targets to create a circular economy for plastic. However, there have been few clear and credible best practices for achieving and reporting on goals to collect and recycle plastic. Until now.

Photo Credit: romaset, Adobe Stock

A new global plastic stewardship initiative – which we developed as a member of the 3R Initiative, a coalition committed to achieving zero plastic waste – provides financial incentives for collection and recycling projects and allows plastic producers and users to credibly and transparently measure their efforts to reduce plastic waste.

The initiative, which includes the Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship (Guidelines) and the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (Plastic Standard), is a first-of-its-kind playbook to achieve a more circular economy. Companies that are truly committed to reducing their plastic footprint should adopt the Guidelines, including purchasing credits certified to the Plastic Standard once they have maximized their efforts within their value chain. Government leaders, environmentalists and consumers should demand nothing less.

Doing this assures that corporations support effective, impactful and credible plastic waste mitigation activities around the world, reducing plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, improving livelihoods and protecting marine ecosystems.

How do we know? Because we have spent the last 18 months successfully piloting the Plastic Standard in 24 projects on six continents. The pilot projects have collected and recycled huge amounts of plastic waste, from Buenos Aires to Kenya, Myanmar, Indonesia, Australia, Europe and Florida. Each of these projects created or strengthened waste collection and recycling in measurable ways, creating new income streams for waste pickers, recyclers and others.

The new Plastic Standard and the Guidelines help hold everyone accountable. This initiative builds on the lessons we learned with carbon offsets, specifically:

  • No Greenwashing: The Guidelines help companies substantiate corporate plastic waste reduction commitments, providing best practices for companies to credibly and transparently quantify and report on their plastic footprints, defining how companies must aggressively reduce their footprints (including through the use of more recycled and recyclable content, supply chain investments and more), and determining if and how plastic credits can credibly mitigate plastic leakage that companies cannot tackle themselves.
  • Measuring Additionality: Projects will only be able to issue plastic credits if they generate verifiable reductions in plastic waste in the environment or increases in recycled plastic that would not have occurred without the funding from the sale of such credits.
  • Raising the Bar: The Plastic Standard and Guidelines were developed with broad stakeholder input and will be updated regularly. We will continue to raise the bar until the plastic pollution problem is solved.

If 10 of the top plastic producers in the world adopted this framework, it would remove more than 1 million tonnes of plastic waste leaked into the environment each year. Imagine the impact we can have if every plastic producer adopts the Guidelines and purchases verified credits, when needed – cleaner communities, beaches and oceans.