8 December 2021
COP 26 in Glasgow was my first COP, it was interesting to see first-hand how the negotiations work. Whilst the focus was on emissions, there were plenty of reminders that around half the climate impact of humans comes from the food we eat and the products we use and dispose of. In every discussion I had with governments from around the word, it was acknowledged that these products also have an impact on nature, biodiversity and our oceans. One of the materials most talked about was, of course, plastic, which is not only a potential pollutant, but contributes around 3% of global emissions - more than air travel.
In November 2017, I along with millions of others, watched footage of the Blue Planet II series which shocked the world. The images prompted populations around the globe to demand action to tackle the huge problem of plastic waste and pollution. In the UK, WRAP was in the process of developing a plastics commitment, based on our 18 years of experience in convening and delivering impactful collaborative commitments, and vast technical knowledge of innovations in the recycling of plastic.
Together with the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, WRAP developed the UK Plastics Pact which launched in April 2018. The Plastics Pact uses four carefully designed targets to drive circularity in plastics by demanding that unnecessary and problematic plastics are eradicated, what is necessary can be and is reused and recycled and stimulating a recycling industry by specifying recycled content in new packaging. The UK Plastics Pact was always designed to be the first of many around the world, to bring a truly global response to the challenge.
The UK Plastics Pact has gone on to be the model for 12 further Pacts around the world. There is now at least one Plastics Pact on every populous continent. There are more being developed as I write. The Pacts focus on measurable action and technical innovations so that there is real impact, not just talk. Global and local businesses are reporting real changes as a result of the Pact commitments. Sharing innovations in technology and business models between businesses in the different Pact countries is one of the ways we can supercharge this effort and accelerate change.
I’m delighted with the progress these Pacts are making and I know we can do more. That’s why I’m so pleased that UKRI have committed to funding and international grants programme in support of the Pacts on three continents. Grants are available to UK businesses and not-for-profit organisations who have a proven market ready solution, covering the four challenge areas listed below, which have the potential to be applied in South Africa, Kenya, India or Chile.
Eligible organisations can get financial support to explore the feasibility of exporting adapting their solution for use in these countries. They will be encouraged to find local partners (with our support if needed) and can use the funding to undertake technical testing, apply for licenses and travel to the countries (Covid permitting).
The challenges fall into four focus areas:
- Flexible film packs including small formats
- Reusable packaging and new business models
- Collection, sorting, cleaning and recycling
- End Market Development
These are designed to directly support delivery of the Pacts’ ambitious targets. Full details of the individual challenges, eligibility criteria and what can be funded can be found on the International Circular Plastics Flagship Competition page.
This has the potential to be a game-changing moment in the global effort to combat plastic waste and pollution and I look forward to seeing the many great innovation which can be shared and scaled as a result.