November 29, 2022

Do Voluntary Corporate Pledges Help Reduce Plastic Pollution?

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Earth is awash in plastic. It litters our landscapes and waterways, overflows landfills and increasingly threatens human and environmental health worldwide.

And because most plastic is made from fossil fuels, it also contributes to climate change.

Many companies, mindful of growing public expectations about corporate responsibility, have pledged to reduce their plastic footprints.

However, a new analysis by Duke University researchers finds that while 72% of the top 300 companies on the Fortune Global 500 list have made some form of voluntary commitment to reduce plastic pollution, few have prioritized reducing their use of virgin plastic, which is the real root of the problem, according to Zoie Diana, a PhD candidate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“We found that rather than shutting off the plastic tap at its source, companies are overwhelmingly focused on downstream waste-reduction strategies such as including more recycled or potentially recyclable plastic in their products and marginally reducing the volume of plastic used in their packaging, a practice known as lightweighting,” said Diana, who led the research.

Diana’s coauthors were Kelly Reilly, Rachel Karasik, Tibor Vegh, Amy Pickle and John Virdin of Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability; Yifan Wang, Zoe Wang, Lauren Dunn, Meagan Dunphy-Daly and Daniel Rittschof of Duke’s Nicholas School; Robert Blasiak of the Stockholm Resilience Center; and Daniel Vermeer of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

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