Plastic is not fantastic: How our organization aims to drive change and protect our people and the environment

Foundever™ will be actively supporting Earth Day Org’s goal of significantly reducing plastic production and use before 2040.

Person wearing a glove collecting plastic garbage on a beach

Published ·April 22, 2024

Reading time·6 min

Beginning in April and in honor of the 54th annual Earth Day, Foundever will be actively raising awareness among our people worldwide about the impact that plastic is having on our environment. We will also start several long-term initiatives — including beach cleanup days and plogging challenges (where teams jog while collecting litter) in every country we currently operate to help counter some of the damage the material is causing.

As is the case with all global corporations, we have a duty to support and give back to the communities in which we operate, whether it’s through creating employment, providing training and education, investing in initiatives that tackle poverty or exclusion or, in the case of addressing plastic waste and misuse, simply ensuring good stewardship of the planet itself.

Earth Day takes aim at plastic

If we can reduce our reliance on the material, if we can become active participants in helping to remove it from our parks, cities and coastlines, and if we can increase our focus on reducing the amount of plastic waste we produce annually as individuals and as an organization, we’re certain that we can start to make a genuine difference and help drive long-term change.

As its theme for this year’s event, the Earth Day organization wants to draw the world’s attention to the damage plastic use and disposal is having on the environment and in doing so, increase support globally for a 60% reduction in plastic manufacturing before 2040.

Without widespread understanding and support, hitting such an ambitious target is a very tall order because, whether we like it or not, plastic is an integral element of modern life.

A polymer that permeates the global economy

From automotive and aviation to healthcare, fashion, construction and consumer electronics, plastic is a central component in almost every sector of the global economy. In fact, the material is so ingrained and exists in so many different forms from thermosets and polymers to PVC and PETs that tracking its true global production levels can be a complex endeavor. For 2022 alone, official data regarding production levels varies between 390 million and 475 million tonnes.

What isn’t in doubt is that regardless of how the material is defined, its production and use increases year-on-year (it has essentially doubled between 2000 and 2019). From major breakthroughs in manufacturing technology and related economies of scale to economic growth and consumer demand, there are countless drivers for this growing use.

Ongoing environmental impact

If plastics weren’t manufactured from fossil-based feedstocks and if every plastic item was recycled or reused, it wouldn’t matter which data relating to plastic production was more accurate. And likewise, there would be no need to worry about the fact that demand for the material is increasing, rather than decreasing.

But the fact is, roughly 80% of all plastic manufactured (350 million tonnes) annually ends up as waste and 23% of that waste, around 82 million tonnes, is mismanaged. Instead of being recycled, incinerated or even sent to secure landfills, it’s essentially dumped. The OECD estimates that 1.7 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into our ocean every year and a further 25 million tonnes leaks into the environment through other means. And that’s just the impact of the plastic we can see.

Microplastics, macro impact

Defined as pieces of material measuring up to 5mm in length, microplastics are practically impossible to see; however, their impact is quickly coming into focus. They’ve permeated the soil, oceans and are even in our bodies, and we still aren’t certain of the full impact they’re having on the planet due to their relatively recent discovery and, as a result, the lack of in-depth or long-term data available for analysis.

The biggest single culprit of microplastic pollution is clothing. During their initial production and then every time synthetic fabrics are washed, they release microplastics. It’s estimated that textiles are responsible for up to 75% of all current microplastic pollution, roughly 1 million tonnes a year.

This understanding is crucial and why any initiative to help clean up the local or even our global community will fail to deliver unless that initiative is underpinned with education.

Earth Day Org’s goal is to build what it describes as a “plastic-free” planet for generations to come. But when many of us think about curbing our use of plastic or actively supporting initiatives aiming to place pressure on industries that use plastic, we don’t think about the clothes we buy, we think about bottled water, drinking straws or packaging.

A global approach to plastic pollution

Still, despite this complexity, progress is being made, albeit slowly. In March 2022, all United Nations (UN) Member States committed to create a global legal agreement to tackle plastic pollution, including its impact on marine environments. However, the UN is made up of 193 member countries, each facing unique challenges of the policy, which aims for an end to plastic pollution by 2040. The strategies for achieving this goal include enhancing recycling efforts, promoting reuse, and, ideally, significantly reducing both the supply of and demand for plastics.

For instance, thanks to their comparative wealth, industrial strength and maturity of infrastructure, the G7 nations have committed to ending plastic pollution by 2040 primarily through the adoption of sustainable, circular practices. And this is already having some impact.

Different countries face different challenges

Within the European Union, circular plastics — i.e., plastics that once manufactured from raw materials are either directly reused or recycled and repurposed — now account for 13.5% of the material used to create new plastic products in continental Europe. The initiative is sufficiently mature that this percentage will double by 2030.

As well as reuse, Europe is currently home to the most mature waste recycling systems. Of the 9% of global plastics successfully recycled in any given year, 21% of that global total is recycled in Europe.

But if we look at the U.S., it’s a very different picture. At 69kg per person, it has one of the world’s highest per capita uses of plastic, yet only successfully recycles 4% of the material, sending 73% of waste plastic to landfill.

Curb demand to cut the supply

But it doesn’t matter what happens at a regional or continental level if we don’t make a concerted effort to change our own behavior at the individual level. Regardless of a city’s or country’s ability to recycle the resultant waste, it’s better for the planet if we decide against buying a bottle of water and instead use a flask. We can all reduce pressure on existing infrastructure and systems while they begin or continue their transformation.

And this is why we have to actively educate as well as organize activities. This year, we’ll host a series of beach cleanup events at our offices and sites near the coast and will send plogging teams to local parks and inner-city areas. While both are effective and fun and help to build team spirit, if we continue to buy and use single-use plastics that aren’t correctly disposed of after use, these events will have to continue for the foreseeable future.

In this respect, at an organizational level, we have already taken several steps. For instance, there are no single-use plastic reciprocals in use at any of our offices worldwide. Glassware and metal cutlery are available, and tumblers and flasks are provided freely to all employees. Though a seemingly small gesture, when scaled, that impact grows exponentially.

Looking at the bigger plastic picture

At the same time, we’re actively monitoring all types of waste production at every site and in every country to identify effective means of cutting back on the use of certain types of materials, or finding more effective and sustainable means of sourcing and procuring them and proven environmental means of disposing them after use.

But of course, Earth Day lasts just 24 hours and, while critical for the future, reducing dependency on plastics is a single issue. So, to learn more about how plastics factor into our holistic approach to being a good corporate citizen and working towards a long-term positive change for the benefit of our people, our clients, our communities and the planet as a whole, download our latest ESG report.