Are the 2025 plastic packaging commitments still on the table? 


Tom Szaky, the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, explores the 2025 plastic packaging commitments and the factors that have slowed down achieving them.

In 2018, hundreds of companies joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) Global Commitment to tackle plastic pollution. Many major companies – representing 20% of all plastic production globally – were part of this cohort, voluntarily pledging to accomplish the following by 2025:

  1. Ensure 100% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  2. Increase the share of post-consumer recycled content across all plastic packaging used.
  3. Decrease the use of virgin plastic in packaging.
  4. Take action to move from single-use towards reuse models where relevant.
  5. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging.

For all but the first goal, signatories set their own progress metrics. The Coca-Cola Company pledged to use 25% post-consumer recycled content (PCR) in its packaging, while Nestlé pledged to reduce virgin plastic use by 33%.

If this sounded too good to be true to you at the time, you were right. Back in 2021, Gartner predicted that 90 percent of these commitments wouldn’t be met by 2025 and in its 2022 Progress Report, the EMF confirmed that fear.

In almost all areas, most commitments won’t be met, and the target of achieving 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging will “almost certainly” not be met. In fact, there’s been an overall increase in the use of virgin plastic – back to 2018 levels.

To understand why we first have to step back and acknowledge macro conditions. The Global Commitment pledges were made at a time when the economy was roaring and the supply chain was humming. The Covid-19 pandemic was nowhere on the radar. There was no war in Ukraine.

In almost all areas, most commitments won’t be met.

With years until their pledges came due, organisations felt like they had time; time they needed for multi-stakeholder dialogues, like the UK Plastics Pact led by WRAP, to actually lead to tangible improvements in the systems for producing, using, recovering and processing plastics.

We also can’t ignore the fact that it’s easy to make commitments. There’s no expectation of immediate action or results. And, by the time the due date for the commitment arrives, the person who made it may not even be in their role anymore.

Commitments can be used as a cover or tactic to buy time, and the PR benefit of committing always seems to outweigh the negative attention from failing it – especially when a company is just one of many that failed.

I’m not insinuating that empty commitments were the status quo for the Global Commitment. In fact, many – maybe even most – signatories did make some progress against at least one key metric.

Offering a few highlights from the 2022 Progress Report, several major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies – Keurig Dr Pepper, L’Oréal, SC Johnson, and Unilever – have increased PCR use in their packaging portfolio by ten or more per cent.

Some companies have gone above and beyond their plastic packaging reduction goals, like clothing brand H&M, which has achieved a 34.4% reduction over its goal of 25% by 2025. Looking to reuse, a space in which few signatories have shown much progress at all, L’Occitane has increased its percentage of reusable plastic packaging to 16.29%.

What’s standing in the way of faster and more meaningful progress when it comes to plastics?

We can honour these steps in the right direction while still recognising that we need leaps and bounds. Even for the positive examples I just mentioned, you might say, “Too little, too late.” Or rightfully question whether or not some signatories intentionally set achievable goals when they could be pushing themselves to go further.

What’s standing in the way of faster and more meaningful progress when it comes to plastics?

One factor is the economics of recycling

Plastic waste

Most kinds of plastics aren’t broadly recyclable, not because they can’t be recycled but because the economics don’t line up. It costs more to recycle them than to landfill them. The only solution is establishing new (and major) money flows.

But even great tools like EPR (extended producer responsibility) or DRS (deposit return systems) don’t typically bring about enough money flow to ensure that everything collected gets recycled. Take a look at Germany, one of the first countries to set up EPR (back in the ‘90s).

Of the items collected in yellow bins there, like plastic packaging, less than half is actually recycled, with most being incinerated (44.1% in 2014). Not just EPR, but extremely expensive EPR, is still the best option, but it’s not easy to pitch in a time of economic downturn (or in general).

Now, the good news is, when a profitable economic equation is present, infrastructure will magically appear (no need to subsidise it). In other words, it’s not “build it, and they will come” but “set it up for success, and it will be built.”

Another factor is using convenience and profit as motivators


While recycling is an important part of the circular economy, it’s only part of the answer to the waste crisis. The main focus should be reducing and reusing (addressed in Global Commitment targets five and four, respectively). Why hasn’t there been more momentum here? It comes down to convenience and profit.

Consumers are used to the convenience and low prices of the disposable products available today. While companies want to maximise profits. The result is that they choose the cheapest packaging options available, which are typically highly disposable and hard to recycle.

Lastly, there is no unified and comprehensive legislation

plastic bottles

As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says in its Progress Report, voluntary corporate pledges aren’t enough. Comprehensive and unified government action is needed to accelerate progress toward a circular economy for plastics.

For sustainability to be a true commercial priority for corporations, legislation must incentivise sustainable choices and de-incentivise unsustainable ones. Government and legislators have begun stepping up, shifting their focus towards recycling claim standardssingle-use plastic bans and EPR laws. Progress is slow, but it’s gaining momentum.

Due to economic headwinds, we can expect to see companies further deprioritising sustainability investments this year. But there are companies already thinking ahead about damage control and planning consumer-facing sustainability programmes for 2024 and 2025 that will distract from larger unmet commitments.

In 2025, there will be media and consumer outrage around all these failed commitments. While we can recognise economic pressures and other barriers, as well as the progress that has been made (however small), we should hold companies accountable. And we must also use that moment to call for legislation that actually holds them legally accountable.

Ultimately, we need to move away from plastic entirely. The true solution is to stop it at the source. We all need to vote for a better future by buying less.

Got something to say on this article or topic? Submit your views and contact the editor at

Send this to a friend