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What Does Plastic Net Zero Mean?

What Does Plastic Net Zero Mean?

Keeping up with the ever-growing green glossary

As a CSR professional or a responsible consumer, it’s difficult and even frustrating to keep up with the green glossary of sustainability jargon. In the plastic space, it is no different. We are bombarded by terms like: Plastic Neutral, Plastic Negative, Ocean Bound Plastic and, more recently, Plastic Net Zero. Underlying each term is a different calculation method. While brands are increasingly adopting Plastic Net Zero terminology, general understanding of the term has yet to catch up.

Plastic Net Zero defined

A Plastic Net Zero product is one that ensures that any plastic it leaks into the environment is removed. In this scenario the product is not adding to the amount of plastic pollution that already exists – it creates a net addition of zero. In other words, this is the rate at which new sources of plastic pollution stop thanks to community projects, like those at Plastic Collective, that collect, recycle and recirculate plastic into new products. Historical plastic pollution quantities are not addressed by Plastic Net Zero products. This is why Plastic Net Zero products, though important, are one tool in a diverse toolkit to address the plastic challenge.

Figure 1. Plastic Collective established a mobile recycling station for a remote community in Bowraville, Australia in January 2022. The community, through brand partnerships, will collect and recycle plastic waste previously leaking into the environment. Much of this recycled material will be transformed into Net Zero Plastic products. Full story here.

Apply the Net Zero concept to daily life. Picture a professional wrestler who must maintain their 85 kg weight to compete (their historical plastic pollution weight). One night, they may get carried away and order beers, steak and an ice cream sundae (new plastic products), which add to their weight. To compete, they exercise to reach 85kg again – this is a net increase of zero.

Communicating Plastic Net Zero on a collection, recycling and circular level

Plastic is a tangible material which, unlike CO2 emissions or greenhouse gas emissions, must address Net Zero calculations at three levels to be considered Net Zero throughout its entire lifespan:

1. Net Zero Plastic Collected: Collect as much plastic as the product leaks into the environment each year.

2. Net Zero Plastic Recycled: Collect and recycle as much plastic as the product leaks into the environment each year.

3. Net Zero Plastic Circular: Collect, recycle and use as much recycled plastic as the product leaks into the environment each year.

For those focused on the climate action from a carbon dioxide emission reductions angle, note that the Net Zero definition differs. The link between plastic and climate change, as we have previously blogged about at Plastic Collective, should not be overlooked, though. Afterall, 99% of plastics in use are composed of fossil fuels – a non-renewable energy source that releases methane and contributes to global warming.

Given the above three levels of nuance, brands should publicly specify which Net Zero level their product, or company as a whole, is targeting. While all brands as plastic emitters have a responsibility to society to address their plastic footprint, some brands are progressing towards their reduction targets faster than others. Such brands should be recognized for going the extra mile. This is why Plastic Collective offers brands three badges that, once certified, can be added to a product’s label (see Figure 2 above).

Standard best practices exist for communicating Plastic Net Zero targets as well as other commitments. The Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship (The Guidelines) summarize must-have metrics and how to transparently communicate plastic commitments and claims. Some top-level items to adopt include:

1. a SMART long-term target.

2. an interim SMART target to meet a longer-term target.

3. an immediate action plan that is realistic to achieve the interim target.

4. a longer-term action plan that is realistic to achieve the long-term target.

The Guidelines can also be easily merged with other frameworks, which allow brands to create holistic sustainability strategies. Most notably, the Sustainable Development Goals, drafted by the United Nations Framework Convention, and science-based targets.

Progress on the Plastic Net Zero target should be publicly reported annually, in alignment with the Verra Plastic Standard to ensure a brand’s credibility. For example, activities should be framed as either a within value chain activity, such as substituting virgin plastic with recycled (which lowers carbon emissions), or beyond value chain, such as plastic offsets. Within value chain activities should be prioritized over beyond value chain since these decisions are ones brands directly control. Over the long-term, this offers more positive environmental impact and moves the private sector more quickly towards meeting the Paris Agreement milestones.

Going beyond Plastic Net Zero

Many like to think of plastic pollution as a tap we can turn off once the world becomes conscious. However, even if we “turn off the tap”, there are still decades of plastic pollution damaging the environment. Brands must acknowledge this legacy and take action to address historical leakage. The longer this plastic sits in our oceans, soil and air without proper collection, the longer society will continue to be plagued by the perils of plastic. The Covid pandemic has only intensified the urgency for brands to set plastic targets that can truly move the needle over the next decade. So, while getting today’s plastic pollution levels and global emissions to zero is extremely important, brands should not overlook their legacy plastic pollution as part of a longer-term plan to regenerate our world.

What’s the Link Between Plastic and Climate Change?

What’s the Link Between Plastic and Climate Change?

Image sourced from GreenBiz.

The perils of plastic are well known to businesses and their consumers. Yet, often at times the link between plastic pollution and carbon emissions is overlooked. Tackling these challenges requires a holistic understanding of their relationship. 

We forget that our plastic beverages, take-out containers, cosmetics and so much more are synonymous with fossil fuels. Today, 99% of plastics in use are manufactured from either natural gas or crude oil. What does this mean for global warming? Our plastic is responsible for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – that’s almost double the emissions of the aviation sector! 

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) states that plastic exacerbates climate change at every stage of its lifecycle: 

  • Extraction and transportation

  • Refining and manufacture

  • Waste management

If the production and use of plastics continue to increase, the plastic industry will account for 20% of global oil use by 2050. Our carbon budget, however, needs to decrease through plastics recycling, the scaling of reusable products, etc. Addressing our plastic addiction is one piece to solving the climate crisis jigsaw, but how did we get here to begin with?

How did we get here?

Discovered in 1950, plastic production increased from 2.3 million tonnes to 381 million tonnes by 2015. This boom was a direct consequence of plastic’s cheap, durable and flexible nature which triggered global adoption. Culturally and economically seen as a low-value material, plastic is typically discarded rather than captured and turned into new goods. 

Plastic production escalated so rapidly that our ability to recover, recoup and recycle the material cannot keep up. Shockingly, only 9% of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic ever created has been recycled. The rest gets incinerated or discarded into landfills creating negative environmental impacts like microplastics. 

Developed countries like the US, UK and Japan rely on poorer countries to manage much of their discarded plastic. While China used to accept the majority of this discarded plastic, it shut its doors in 2018. Though countries like Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia have become substitutes, the negative impact of plastic in their communities is forcing them to rethink the tons of plastic they accept.

What does plastic waste and emissions in developing countries look like?

Developing countries are even less equipped to manage the plastic crisis, which results in increased emissions. Plastic incineration is typical in low-income nations, and poorly regulated, which is expected to convert 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2021 alone. Moreover, communities in developing countries that lack waste infrastructure use uncontrolled open burning to manage their waste. In a study done in India and Indonesia, uncontrolled open burning of plastic waste was found to be a “major contributor towards climate change”. The CIEL study reached a similar conclusion, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic threatens our ability to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C – a Paris Agreement target. The COVID pandemic is adding fuel to the fire.

How has the COVID Pandemic impacted plastic use?

Global demand for plastic boomed alongside COVID-19. Single-use plastic masks and gloves have become an everyday necessity for doctors and civilians alike. Take-away from Deliveroo and UberEats also became a weekly norm. (Think about the climate impact of all the plastic packaging, straws and plastic bags!) Plastic has once again proven itself a necessity by helping to curb the spread of the pandemic. It is to be seen if this will jeopardize the policy initiatives in the US , France and elsewhere to curb plastic use and move towards circular models that reduce emissions while contributing to human health and ecosystems regeneration. Momentum, however, is growing for a United Nations Plastics Treaty

What solutions exist?

Various solutions exist. We at Plastic Collective see three areas where brands can take climate action via plastic:

1. Set plastic targets in line with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy. Targets should sit within a long-term plastics strategy to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic.

2. Ensure your climate strategy is holistic by linking it to your plastics strategy. For example, if you already use Carbon Credits, consider Plastic-Carbon Combo Credits instead.

3. Become an impact activator by collaborating with a national or regional Plastics Pact. There are currently 12 around the world including the US, Europe, Chile and India.

Unsure how to start? Our engineers and sustainability consultants can help your company take its first steps, regardless of whether you are a recycler, a cosmetics company or in highly regulated industries like food and medical.

**************************************************************************************Our purpose at Plastic Collective is to show people how to find value in plastics as a resource, to understand which plastics can be recycled or recovered, and provide solutions to eliminate those which can’t be, thus preventing disposal of plastics. This will create sustainable circular economies which no longer rely on the ‘take-make-dispose’ attitude.

For more information, please contact us today.

Environmental Standard Setter Verra Names Plastic Collective to Plastic Program Advisory Group

Environmental Standard Setter Verra Names Plastic Collective to Plastic Program Advisory Group

Image sourced from Verra.

Plastic Collective’s Steve Hardman was recently invited to join Verra’s Plastic Program Advisory Group (PPAG). He, alongside eighteen other cross-sector stakeholders, will guide the development of the Plastic Waste Reduction Program. The Program, initiated by the 3R Initiative, launched in February 2021 as the first standard to codify requirements to finance activities that verifiably reduce plastic waste in the environment.

Verra, the world’s leading environmental standard setter, says the Advisory Group will:

“…meet the needs of the plastic credit market and enable the delivery of credible plastic waste reduction. Members of the PPAG are expected to provide strategic guidance on the evolution of the Plastic Program, including updates to the content of the Plastic Program rules, and insight into user needs. The Group also advises on existing and prospective market opportunities, such as those under extended producer responsibility schemes, voluntary corporate circularity commitments, and plastic reduction commitments” (source).

I got the full scoop from Hardman on Verra’s Plastic Program Advisory Group.

1. Why is the Advisory Group an important part of Verra’s Plastic Waste Reduction Program?

The Advisory Group will be key to providing guidance on the evolution of the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard over the coming years. This means working closely on the technical and commercial requirements as they apply to both plastic waste collection and plastics recycling projects as well as brands. It’s been exciting and insightful to collaborate with other experts in this Advisory Group. We all come from different geographies and parts of the plastic value chain which provides for diverse perspectives.

2. Given your background, what kind of input will you be providing to the Advisory Group?

In my role as Chairperson of Plastic Collective, I was responsible for launching Plastic Collective’s Plastic Credit and Plastic Neutral program in October 2017. This was the first plastic crediting system in the world that has since grown into Verra’s globally regulated Plastic Credit market. At the time, our community based plastic collection and recycling projects were struggling to become financially viable – a key aspect of sustainability! There was just no demand for our project partners to collect and recycle plastic. Leaving this recyclable material in the environment or poorly managed landfills was never an option. The Plastic Credit invention was a direct response to this challenge.

Since then, Plastic Collective’s projects, which are concentrated in the Asia Pacific region, were able to deliver impact thanks to Plastic Credits. I want to share our learnings from the past four years with the Advisory Group so that we can fast-track towards a circular economy.

Source: Plastic Collective. A small collection and recycling project in Les Village, Bali, Indonesia.  

3. What topics are you hoping the Advisory Group prioritizes this year? 

Without a doubt, we need to prioritize three things:

 A) Making Verra project certification affordable for small projects

Currently, plastic collection and recycling projects seeking to become certified and be added to Verra’s registry must pay a hefty price. This price tag includes things like third-party auditing to check that a project has social and environmental safeguards and a monitoring and reporting plan. 

The issue is that many of the communities affected most by plastic pollution are rural and are therefore supported by small collection and recycling projects that can’t afford certification, though they are prime candidates to generate Plastic Credits. For the Plastic Waste Reduction Program to be an inclusive and replicable solution, we need to make certification more affordable for these small community projects.

B) Creating a chemical recycling methodology to incorporate into Verra’s Plastic Waste Reduction Standard

Verra’s Waste Reduction Plastic Standard currently only allows for mechanical recycling. Unfortunately, given food and safety regulations, mechanical recycling creates a material that is not food grade. Simply put, this type of plastic packaging cannot be used in the food industry. This industry already faces a food waste challenge, recycling technologies can be used to avoid exacerbating things.

Chemical recycling, like pyrolysis and solvolysis, may open up opportunities for the food industry to use recycled plastic at a scalable level. This would translate into lower product carbon emissions and various environmental and social benefits associated with using recycled instead of virgin plastic.

C) Develop a Plastic-Carbon Combo Credit methodology

This is just a no-brainer! A Plastic-Carbon Combo Credit is a great way for brands to holistically drive impact. With increasing expectations from investors and consumers, brands can no longer stop short at reducing their carbon emissions without addressing the plastic footprint. With brands increasingly committing to carbon net zero, it’s important to remember that zero waste is a solid step towards meeting such targets.

4. What are the main roadblocks you’re observing when discussing the Verra Plastic Standard with potential projects & brands?

Like anything new, there is a certain amount of awareness raising needed so that brands and projects adopt best practice. Brands and projects are still predominantly using unregulated Plastic Credits that do not follow a standard. This is essentially a wild west of Plastic Credits – anyone can sell or claim anything. For the sake of creating real impact, and avoiding unintentional negative consequences like child labor, our team has invested a lot of time educating projects and brands on the need to transition from this wild west to Verra’s Plastic Standard best practices.

Verra’s best practices are summarized for brands in the Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship. The Guidelines are underpinned by extensive mitigation activities, such as reuse and composting, to lower a brand’s amount of plastic. Requirements for projects are outlined in the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard. These two documents are the basis of Verra’s global framework for the generation, trade and use of Plastic Credits.

Source: Verra & 3RI

5. Is Plastic Collective doing anything already to address some of the priorities you’ve highlighted?

The main topic we are focusing on is creating a Plastic-Carbon Combo Credit methodology. We started identifying partners back in April 2021. Plastic activities create direct carbon savings. Projects and brands contributing to these two areas currently do not have a credit mechanism that holistically values their actions jointly. This can prevent brands from starting their plastic stewardship journeys or taking their strategies to the next level.


By launching the Plastic Waste Reduction Program in February 2021, Verra forever changed best practices for sustainable plastic use.

To familiarize yourself with Verra’s Plastic Standard, check out their FAQ page. You can also read our whitepaper on the topic here. Or, for those completely new to the concept of credits, you can learn how Plastic Credits work here.

Our purpose at Plastic Collective is to show people how to find value in plastics as a resource, to understand which plastics can be recycled or recovered, and provide solutions to eliminate those which can’t be, thus preventing disposal of plastics. This will create sustainable circular economies which no longer rely on the ‘take-make-dispose’ attitude.

For more information, please contact us today.

India Plastics Pact Launches with Plastic Collective as a Founding Member

India Plastics Pact Launches with Plastic Collective as a Founding Member

Image sourced from India Plastics Pact.



September 3, 2021 marks the official launch of India Plastics Pact – collaboratively developed by WWF India and the Confederation of Indian Industry. Plastic Collective is proud to be one of the Pact’s founding members. Globally, there are now twelve Pacts including Chile, South Africa, Europe and the US that seek to create a circular economy for plastics.

Similar to its predecessors, the Pact seeks to transform the entire plastics value chain through four ambitious targets aimed to remove unnecessary and problematic plastics, redesign and recycle so as to circulate plastics within the value chain. The Pact’s 2030 targets  include:

Figure 1) The Pact’s targets seek to make plastics/plastic packaging more recyclable and compostable, trigger a significant reduction of plastic and increase the ability to reuse the material.

These targets are aligned with the circular economy principles of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy

As part of this trailblazing, cross-sector collaboration, Plastic Collective will work with the initiative to create a circular economy for plastics so that they do not leak into the environment. This will be sparked by 4 key actions:

Figure 2) Through stakeholder collaborations, the Pact will initiate innovation projects that catalyze practical solutions at a large scale. The development of a national framework will serve as a roadmap to prioritize and spark significant change across the plastics value chain.

Plastic Collective in particular aims to support businesses to adopt innovative plastics solutions across their value chains. We look forward to sharing our diverse experience in plastics technology, community education, training, Plastic Credits and more throughout India. On the policy side, we will also promote environmental compliance and mandatory environmental legislation alongside the Pact to tackle pollution.


Plastics play a key role in India’s formal and informal economy. Unfortunately, the global trend is for plastics not to be used in an economically, socially or environmentally effective manner. Each year, according to the Pact, India produces 9.46 million tonnes of plastics annually. Only 40% of this is collected. Moreover, of the plastics produced in India, 43% is used for packaging with a majority being single-use plastics. 

India is stepping up to the opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in tackling plastic pollution. By eliminating, innovating and circulating the Pact’s common vision is a world where plastic is valued and doesn’t pollute the environment. This vision aligns with Plastic Collective’s values and aspirations.


Are you a plastics system stakeholder? If you are any of the following and are interested in activating change, please contact India Plastics Pact to learn more:


  • A company that sits in the waste management/waste sector, plastics packaging manufacturing or that sells a product that puts tonnes of plastic waste into consumer hands.


  • An NGO working on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions reductions or recycling infrastructure. (Your NGO does not need to focus solely on plastic pollution.)


Varun Aggarwal

Associate Director, Sustainable Business

WWF India

Dr. Nandini Kumar


Confederation of Indian Industry-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development 

Our purpose at Plastic Collective is to show people how to find value in plastics as a resource, to understand which plastics can be recycled or recovered, and provide solutions to eliminate those which can’t be, thus preventing disposal of plastics. This will create sustainable circular economies which no longer rely on the ‘take-make-dispose’ attitude.

For more information, please contact us today.

Surfing towards Sustainability: Diving into WAW’s Ocean Plastic Supply Chain

Surfing towards Sustainability: Diving into WAW’s Ocean Plastic Supply Chain

Dreaming Big: Australia’s first Ocean Plastic Supply Chain

Before WAW became a household name in the Australian surf industry, Rikki Gilbey was just another person dreaming big. What was driving him? Giving a new generation of bodysurfers a way to get barreled, while leaving nothing but a cleaner ocean in their wake. This is the origin of The BadFish – the world’s first, commercially produced, zero virgin plastic handplane. Bringing this dream to life is a story of failing fast which offers the rest of us eco-entrepreneurs inspiration in a world quick to label our innovations as “impossible”.

Figure 1: WAW’s BadFish handplanes are made of alternative materials. This gives the plastic waste a second life as a instead of ending in a landfill. Images courtesy of WAW.

Finding Partners with Purpose

Rolling out an ocean plastic handplane was supposed to take three months, instead it took three years. With a sigh Gilbey shares, “I was a bit naive going into the project, but the more I learned about the plastic problem the more determined I was to do something about it.” The puzzle pieces included an ocean plastic supplier, a molder, and a manufacturer – how hard could it be?

“Impossible” is a word Gilbey regularly confronted when pitching his idea in the quest for partners. Manufacturers in particular kept pointing to the risk ocean plastic materials posed to their expensive machinery. The issue, they argued, is that for ocean plastic to be recyclable and see a second life, extra time is required to separate the plastic polymers from contaminants (e.g., sand, shells, metal, etc.) The bottom line, sustainability’s arch nemesis, seemed to have won.

Plasticity, an annual forum to create a circular economy for plastic, gave Gilbey a fresh opportunity. Gilbey met an ocean plastic supplier, Louise Hardman, founder of Plastic Collective, and a forward-thinking recycled plastics manufacturer, Mark Yates, founder of Replas. Gilbey cornered both forum speakers with the same passionate message, “I want to prove that we can make something out of Australian ocean plastics, thereby giving others no excuse to make things out of the easier, cheaper and more readily available, post-consumer recycled material.” Aligned with Gilbey’s vision, Plastic Collective and Replas agreed to partner with WAW.

The partnerships took an investment of time, money and enthusiasm. Mark Yates and Gilbey ran experiments with ocean plastic material. Yates’ injection molding and recycled plastics expertise were key to getting The BadFish handplane off-the-ground and onto various retailers.

Through Plastic Collective’s Closed Loop Network, Gilbey teamed up with Ecobarge Clean Seas. Ecobarge Clean Seas had recently installed Plastic Collective’s Shruder machine, which processes the ocean plastic its volunteers collect into shredded recycled material. While other sources of ocean plastic procurement were too degraded and low in quantity for WAW Handplanes to rely on, Ecobarge Clean Seas’ source offered quality. The best part? The ocean plastic gets directly collected from the Great Barrier Reef. This means The BadFish’s entire global supply chain is local to Australia and offers lower carbon emissions than its competitors.

Figure 2: The Badfish handplane’s plastics supply chain. Image is courtesy of WAW.

What Makes WAW’s BadFish Unique?

From there, success took off quickly. After three years of learning, searching and trialing, The BadFish became the first, commercially produced, Australian made product utilising a traceable Australian ocean plastics supply chain. In fact, each WAW BadFish gives one bag of rubbish (a.k.a recovered resources) a new life. This 99.9% recycled product is made with ⅓ recycled ocean plastic and ⅔ kerbside recycled plastic – mainly milk bottles, packaging materials and items like single-use plastic like cutlery, fishing equipment and plastic bags. The other 0.1% is a UV stabilizer that prevents further breakdown to protect Oceans from micro plastics.

Figure 3: Recycled plastic ratios in WAW’s BadFish. The Badfish is taking tons of plastic out of the ocean every year and driving environmental impact. Image is courtesy of WAW.

A unique aspect of WAW’s sustainable products is that they never asked consumers to make a sacrifice. The BadFish offers an equal bodysurfing high, a product with a purpose, and (drum roll please!) a handplane that is 10%-36% below competitor pricing. WAW proves, like a growing number of innovators, that sustainability does NOT require compromise.

Nowadays, numerous Australian bodysurfing clubs back WAW and bodysurfers, like Australia’s Corey Sainsbury and World Bodysurfing Champion Tom Marr, all sport WAW BadFish gear. Mission accomplished? Not quite yet.

Scaling & Sourcing: Lessons from Australian Waters

WAW is facing a new challenge. As of 2021, consumer demand now outpaces its supply of recycled ocean plastic. While Ecobarge Clean Seas’ collection levels are high, its reliance on volunteers for the cleaning process is a bottleneck. This supply chain disruption is creating a scalability issue.

WAW is now working with Plastic Collective’s Closed Loop Network to find a partner to bridge this gap. The goal is to bale collected ocean plastic and, with the help of a new partner, process the material into recycled ocean plastic feedstock for WAW’s use. Gilbey also plans to make this processed ocean material available to others, in the hope that more businesses will incorporate it into their products.

On the Horizon: Inspiration to be the Change

Gilbey will continue developing new ocean plastic products in the future. His driving force is to prove, time and again, that using ocean plastic is not only possible, but profitable. If more companies use ocean plastic, the heightened demand will lower costs and make the material competitive to virgin plastic. (The main excuse industry points to.)

Gilbey is also quick to say, “Why go and buy brand new material when the resources are right there ready to collect and everyone is just paying to throw it away?” To get this message out, WAW is being:

  1. Persistently genuine: From the very start, WAW wanted to properly create an ocean plastic product. This meant taking a real step to solve the ocean plastic problem locally, not stopping at marketing. WAW has remained genuine to this mission and Gilbey regularly reminds himself not to give up as it’s hard, not impossible.
  2. Transparent: WAW isn’t afraid to tell it as it is. Challenges like ocean plastic are complex. If it were easy, it would not be on the global agenda. WAW believes it has an obligation to share the good, the bad and the ugly of their journey with others. Much of this can be found on its website here and here. The Badfish can be added to a growing number of case studies.
  3. Loud: Gilbey, who prefers bodysurfing to public speaking, is a big believer in inspiring others to take action. He takes every opportunity to share WAW’s journey to make it easier for others to join.

This unfolding adventure may sound like a serious amount of work, but Gilbey and the WAW team leave plenty of time to get barreled while leaving nothing but a cleaner ocean in their wake.

Figure 4: The Badfish handplane in action! Images courtesy of WAW’s Instagram.

3 Questions Every Sustainability Professional Should Ask: Getting a Holistic View of your Products’ Impact

3 Questions Every Sustainability Professional Should Ask: Getting a Holistic View of your Products’ Impact

As a sustainability professional, we see more and more frameworks being introduced – each promises a direct path to positive impact. But which, out of hundreds of options, is the right path forward for your unique brand?

We hear such questions a lot in the plastic solutions space. Regardless of whether you sit in cosmetics, tourism, FMCG or otherwise, this is a common issue. Here’s the thing, though, no matter what framework you are using or will use, three questions can help guide you.

Having consulted for various industries, my colleague Aly, has reduced his 30 years of product innovation design into three guiding questions….think of this as your golden (plastic-free!) sustainability compass. So, if your strategy is in need of a reboot, pause and ponder:

1. Is your framework holistic enough?
2. Are your products regenerative?
3. Do you truly support your supply chain partners?

Not quite sure? More on each of these below.

Are your frameworks holistic enough?

Most sustainability tools tend to be overly narrow and require a framework to create context to support your positive impact. For example, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is commonly used to calculate a product’s carbon footprint, which is important. However, LCA alone is not comprehensive enough to form the basis of a sophisticated strategy. In recent news, for example, a renewable energy, solar panel maker was accused of forced labour practices. Perhaps solar panels offer a strong LCA impact for brands by lowering carbon emissions and reducing their climate change impact, but negative social impacts should also be considered.

Valuable tools like LCA need a holistic framework to contextualize their use. Using a single tool to address your product’s impact is like limiting yourself to only using a hammer to build a house. Cradle to Cradle and the UN Sustainable Development Goals are two examples of holistic frameworks of positive impact. These tools offer multiple perspectives on doing good and help define a complete toolkit for your sustainability plan.

Are your products regenerative like nature?

It’s no longer enough for companies to do less harm. True leaders are seeking to create net benefits to the world by placing regenerative products on the market – regenerative products leave the world better than it was before. For example, is it truly enough to commit to halving your plastic use by 2025? As William McDonough (Cradle to Cradle design pioneer), articulates, yes, this is less harmful…you are no longer driving towards a brick wall at 100 km/hour. Instead, you’re driving towards the wall at half the speed. But shouldn’t we just walk around the wall instead? Some companies are now looking to sidestep that brick wall by designing like nature. Nature does, after all, have 3.8 billion years of R&D experience!

Normally brands focus on what goes into products, plastic or otherwise. Yet the real question is how will your product be useful to society after your customer is done with it?  Just like nature, we need to design products that are part of a use cycle. (Think back to primary school lessons of the water cycle and the carbon cycle. Spoiler alert, there’s no landfill cycle!) Not sure where your products are in terms of regeneration? Explore the Cradle to Cradle Upcycle Chart.

Without asking this question, many well-intentioned brands create unintended negative consequences. For example, one jeans brand mixed denim with recycled polyester to promote recycling and lower their dependence on cotton, a water hungry material. Unfortunately, the brand only looked at what went into their product without asking how the jeans would be useful to society at end-of-use. The result? What was once a fully degradable cotton product became contaminated by recycled polyester, leaving landfill as the sole destination. If we overly simplify the design challenge to what material is less harmful, we poorly define the real problem – are we creating regenerative products?

Do you know and support your supply chain?

It’s increasingly common for brands to divorce themselves from manufacturing. This puts your brand at risk of human rights and environmental infringements. And no, this is not an Asia problem, it happens worldwide.

Know your supply chain, they are your partners and if you are lucky, they can guide you. Limiting yourself to trust and verify via third party audits removes a key partner from innovation and can overlook glaring issues with one eye closed. You might also miss some key insights in how to make a better product.

What happens when you find a struggling factory partner? This is your leadership moment to engage and help them improve, and their chance to help you improve. This is not the moment to give up and walk out on a partner. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that risk is everywhere and resiliency is everything. Investing in growing relationships with your supply chain is one of the best risk management tools to build a resilient business.

Looking for new resources? If you’re just starting off, check out Cradle to Cradle’s 5 Assessment Pillars and their Upcycle Framework. Already knees-deep in sustainability? Delve deeper into the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals framework and familiarize yourself with its targets and indicators. If you really want to dive into metrics, look at the Global Impact Investor Network’s Impact Toolkit.

Need more background to catch up?

By now, most brands realize sustainability is important, but what does this mean in practice and to your stakeholders? Sustainability means many things depending on who you ask. The communality is to reduce negative social and environmental impact, while making a profit, through sustainable development. Generally speaking, sustainable practices step away from non-renewable activities – fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gas emissions, for example.

A sustainable future will require us to think long-term for future generations. By designing a business model that supports sustainable ecosystems, brands can promote environmental protection, social welfare, and long-term economic prosperity.

Environmental protection entails a business existing without degrading the ecosystem, including natural resources with and without economic value. Sustainable practices like reducing the amount of resources, encouraging consumers to reuse and designing recyclable products help prevent unnecessary use of inputs like energy use and pesticides.

Social welfare ensures that all humans have access to basic resources. For example, healthcare and air quality are examples of interlinked environmental issues. The unfortunate reality, worldwide, is that air pollution, plastic pollution and other forms of pollution are typically concentrated in communities with low-socioeconomic demographics.

Sustainable development is the only pathway for long-term economic prosperity. The logic is simple. There is only so long that we can “drink from the cooler” without it going empty. Business models that adopt sustainable practices into the strategic core of their business, and not solely as a marketing tool, will be “refilling” their coolers faster. Investors are divesting from businesses that are likely not “refilling their coolers”, by analyzing sustainability reporting results. These results show if businesses are not de-risking their supply chain and moving towards a sustainable business model. The rise of the conscious consumer, those who prefer to buy a product that aligns with their ethics, is another reason businesses can no longer ignore sustainability. At the end of the day, sustainability is also just the right thing to do – that cannot be ignored. This doesn’t mean every business has to address every sustainability challenge. For example, a supermarket chain may focus on minimizing food waste and an airline on lowering emissions to prevent global warming.

Curious about Plastic Collective and our Eco-Champion Aly Khalifa?

Plastic Collective is a social enterprise that establishes projects in rural and vulnerable communities that collaboratively, transparently, and innovatively prevent plastic from leaking into our environment.

Aly is based in North Carolina, USA. As President, he leads the team in innovating plastic recycling technologies and programs worldwide while overseeing the US office. This includes pioneering methods to create new products from recycled materials, generating Plastic Credits, business modelling, supply chain development and scaling the enterprise.

Trained as a mechanical engineer and industrial designer, Aly has 30 years of experience innovating sustainable products, manufacturing lines and supply chains around six continents. His collaborations with distinguished talent have garnered dozens of patents, design distinctions and an Eisenhower Fellowship. Having exited his own start-ups, Aly is an active voice in the impact entrepreneurship community, including featured presentations at Sustainable Brands.

To get in touch, please email Tess at You can also get updates by signing up for our quarterly newsletter.


Plastic or Carbon Neutral? We say Both!

Plastic or Carbon Neutral? We say Both!

Plastic or Carbon Neutral? We say Both!

Next Generation Plastic/Carbon Combo Credits

Creating a Circular Economy

Businesses and investors are lining up to commit to plastic neutral and net zero carbon targets. A perfect storm of concerned consumers with government legislation and non-profit pressures are driving such pledges.

To reach systemic change, corporates are increasingly expected to adopt circular economy business models that: 

  • Design out waste — (refuse and reduce) 
  • Extend the lifespan of products and materials (reuse, refurbish and repurpose)
  • Shift to renewable sources (regenerate)

In simple terms, industry must mimic nature’s business, planet earth, where everything produced is healthy food for something else in a continuous cycle. 

The Role of Holistic Credits

Industry is not nimble enough to become circular overnight. This is where plastic credits and carbon credits play a role. Plastic credits, circa 2017, are similar to conventional carbon credits. As a market-based approach, plastic credits reduce plastic pollution at scale by investing a credit buyer’s funds in credible plastic collection and recycling projects (see Figure 1). The buyer then publicly claims they have offset a quantity of plastic they use or produce. For plastic used in the medical and food industries to ensure health and safety, credits allow brands to reduce the negative impacts of legally unavoidable plastic.

Figure 1. Material and Credit Flow for a Plastic Crediting Pathway

In addition to purchasing plastic credits that create a supply of recycled content, businesses are buying recycled plastic material to use in their products, which boosts demand. According to a 2018 life cycle assessment, recycled plastic production consumes less energy and has a lower carbon footprint compared to virgin plastic. Europe’s Plastic Tax and upcoming Carbon Tax have corporates scrambling for solutions to respond to regulatory pressures, which erode their bottom line, and to achieve sustainability pledges. Why then are a vast majority of plastic reduction programs, including plastic footprint accounting, ignoring the plastic-carbon link? The methodology to do so does not exist. 

Bridging this climate gap is essential to ensure holistic impact is achieved at scale. The number of businesses sourcing recycled plastic material from Asia, and shipping it to European and North American markets, is fuelling this carbon footprint. In contrast, plastic collection and recycling avoid greenhouse gas emissions from significant sources like ocean plastic degradation, incineration, and landfills. Given that our “house” is on fire, we must understand how our well-intentioned activities measure up.

A Call for Collaboration through Calculation

We at Plastic Collective plan to take two steps to ensure plastic reduction projects are contributing to carbon net zero goals.

1. While research confirms that producing recycled plastic offers carbon savings, we intend to create a methodology that quantifies the emissions brands evade by using recycled plastic material in their products, including the shipping footprint. This can support brands in achieving their joint plastic and carbon neutral goals, which then steers society towards a circular economy.

2. As the first social enterprise to offer the world plastic credits, Plastic Collective also wants to pioneer a dual Plastic-Carbon Combo Credit. As the name implies, such credits would allow buyers to neutralize both carbon and plastic through community projects that generate these co-benefits. Competition has always improved products and sped up results. For that reason, our common future, we invite #PlasticBank, #rePurpose, #PlasticCreditExchange, and others to beat us to the finish line.

We have left the age of competitive advantage for the few, for the advantages that collaboration can provide for all. Our team at Plastic Collective is eager to take these actions in collaboration with purpose driven brands, governments, and NGOs open to co-creation. For those ready to develop the next generation of Plastic-Carbon Combo Credits and holistically address impact, meet us at the drawing board.

Figure 2. Mantanani Island Project collecting and sorting discarded plastic, equivalent to a company’s plastic footprint.

Learn More?

Tess Zinnes, Sustainability Manager (EPR and Credits) at Plastic Collective:

Making plastic credits credible: WWF latest paper critiques potential crediting shortfalls

Making plastic credits credible: WWF latest paper critiques potential crediting shortfalls

Making plastic credits credible: WWF latest paper critiques potential crediting shortfalls

Is your company considering or currently using Plastic Credits? If so, WWF’s latest position paper on plastic crediting is a MUST read. The report pre-dates the February 2021 launch of Verra’s Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (Plastic Standard). Therefore, while the lack of a standard has been addressed, other issues remain.

WWF’s non-endorsement of the terms “Plastic Neutral” and “Net Zero” in the plastic space, for example, are  critical topics that lingers. Corporates should understand the basis for these concerns and others made in WWF’s insightful and timely paper.


Summary of WWF Position

“Plastic does not belong in nature.

In order to achieve No Plastic in Nature by 2030, a combination of various coordinated strategies must be pursued. Strategies driven by the private sector must include reducing single use plastic, shifting to sustainable inputs for necessary plastic, improving end-of-life management, designing longer-living products, and extended producer responsibility. These approaches must be paired with government and consumer action including international policy, improvements to waste management, and increased public awareness.

WWF is cautious in regard to plastic crediting because there are not yet clear standards/processes associated with this concept and, depending on how they are developed, crediting mechanisms may enable companies to claim they are taking action without making substantial changes to their business. Business as usual will not solve the global plastic pollution crisis. WWF acknowledges that, if developed appropriately, plastic crediting has the potential to drive investment towards circular systems. 

WWF believes only credible plastic crediting systems that contribute to transformational change should be pursued. Plastic crediting activities may serve as an ADDITIONAL approach to robust plastic waste reduction strategies if a strong and credible standard for crediting exists and is adhered to, prerequisites are defined and met, and strong social and environmental safeguards are upheld. Any claims based on credits must be supported by transparent reporting of the company’s plastic footprint (see Transparent 2020 for an example of comprehensive plastic reporting). WWF does not support the use of the terms “plastic neutral” or “plastic neutrality” as they do not clearly convey true environmental impact.”

For the full article see here.

Your Roadmap to the Global Plastic Credit Market

Your Roadmap to the Global Plastic Credit Market

Your Roadmap to the Global Plastic Credit Market

An Official Plastic Credit Market is Born

The plastic problem is not new, yet the slew of corporate pledges driven by legislation and stakeholder pressures are. With corporates avidly searching for solutions, a plastic credit market was born. Like the carbon credit market it emulates, the plastic credit market is a mechanism that drives investments into:

  • recycled plastic procurement,
  • plastic collection projects, and
  • plastic recycling projects

Plastic Credit sales generate capital for such projects. For every credit bought, one tonne of plastic is collected or recycled in addition to what would have happened without the transaction. 

How is the market regulated?

Various unofficial plastic credit programs have existed in a fragmented landscape since 2017. Until recently, the lack of established best practices and standards prevented companies from assessing a credit program’s impact claims. The February 2021 launch of the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (the Plastic Standard), and its complimentary Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship (Guidelines for Corporates), marked a global turning point. The Guidelines for Corporates offer a “how to” based on the Plastic Standard, which establishes “…rules and methodologies to quantify and account for the collection and/or recycling of waste and incorporates social and environmental safeguards” for a project to be certified, including independent auditing(1). Only vetted projects that meet the Plastic Standard’s strict requirements are added to the official Verra Registry. Corporates should be aware that while some unofficial plastic credit programs are transitioning to align with the new Plastic Standard, others may not and pose potential risks.

Plastic credit programs that do not shift towards adopting Plastic Standard best practices come with higher risk. For example, a program’s projects, which are typically in developing countries, may not meet their plastic collection and recycling targets thereby undermining impact. Projects may also use child labor, withhold workers’ wages, and have unsafe working conditions. When partnering with programs that do not align with the Plastic Standard, a company must accept potential regulatory and reputational consequences that such a decision poses(2). Nevertheless, there are several best practices to consider when selecting a plastic credit program partner.

Plastic Credit Fundamentals

In addition to reducing a company’s plastic dependency, a company can tap into the new plastic market to neutralize unavoidable plastic in their supply chain (see section below, “Using Plastic Credits Credibly”). Buying credits can remove two kinds of plastic: a) Current/future plastic a company places on the market and b) legacy plastic a company historically generated(3). A business must therefore first calculate how much plastic they are putting, or have put, onto the market. This is known as a business’ plastic footprint. Once a footprint is established, the company purchases a volume of credits equivalent to either a proportion or 100% of their footprint to counteract their plastic use. Some businesses commit to covering 100% of their plastic footprint, others transition to 100% over time. (Plastic Credits are one tool in the toolbox to lower a plastic footprint. Several other tools should first be considered. See Figure 3 below.) For Coca-Cola to negate a 10,000 tonne plastic footprint solely utilizing credits, for example, they would purchase, at minimum, 10,000 tonnes of Waste Collection Credits as the Plastic Standard equates one credit to one tonne. (The exact number of credits bought would depend on Coca-Cola’s specific plastic claim. See section “Official Plastic Leadership commitments and Claims” for details.)  But how exactly does the credit purchase work in practice? 

A Credit’s Lifecycle

There are various players in the plastic credit market to ensure the Plastic Standard is upheld (see Figure 1 below). A company will typically first consult a project Seller/Broker, the actor that facilitates the Plastic Credit transaction, for guidance on which project(s) are most relevant to their business to purchase credits from. Next, the company visits the Verra Registry, a portfolio of third-party verified plastic collection and recycling projects, to purchase credits from a project(s). The Plastic Standard requires projects on this Registry to go through a rigorous validation process before being added, as well as to maintain a project’s Registry presence, while simultaneously offering public comment periods. The Registry transparently lists: the entity that established and operates the project (a.k.a the Project Proponent), the number of credits available, the quantity of credits already purchased, and other key project documentation. To ensure such information is up-to-date, Project Proponents are required to monitor and report on their projects in accordance with the Standard on an ongoing basis.

Project Identification

Company consults a Broker/Seller to identify an appropriate project

Credit Purchase

Company purchases Plastic Credits from vetted project on Verra’s Registry

Credit Issuance & Claim

Verra’s Registry issues the company Plastic Credits linked with unique serial numbers. Company publicly claims plastic leakage collection and/or recycling.

Credits Catalyze Impact

Plastic Credit funds are invested into collection and/or recycling projects to reduce plastic leakage into the environment.

Figure 1) Credit Lifecycle(4)

Once a company purchases credits from a project, the Registry issues the company Plastic Credits which are linked to unique serial numbers. Proof that the company has bought credits to collect and/or recycle a quantity of plastic, in alignment with the Plastic Standard, is publicly available on the Registry. The Registry therefore avoids situations where two companies are sold the same Plastic Credit or a company greenwashes by exaggerating the amount of credit purchased. At this point, a company can claim the impact of their credits publicly(5).

Plastic Credit funds are then invested into collection and/or recycling projects. To ensure a plastic project is effective, an independent Verification Body audits whether the project actually accomplished what the Project Proponent claims the project collects and/or recycles. 

In practice, one player can wear multiple “hats”. We at Plastic Collective, for example, function holistically as a Broker and a Project Proponent. As a Project Proponent, we do NOT own the collection or recycling projects that we support with training, tailored technologies, and supply chain logistics. Our community project partners hold full ownership over their recovery and recycling operations. Other organizations function solely as Brokers, which distances them from the communities these projects serve. Consequently, such organizations have a more limited understanding of how to ensure project sustainability in a manner that is socially, environmentally, and financially successful.

Plastic Credits Create Shared Value

Plastic Credits offer a pathway to social, environmental, and business value. 

Business Value: The plastic credit market serves to signal which projects are investable, as qualified by the Plastic Standard’s methodology. This allows corporates to invest in impactful, quality-assured projects. The result? Companies benefit by being able to credibly claim responsibility for managing a portion of the plastic they put, or have put, into the environment. Moreover, companies benefit as the reputational risk of selecting a project, with potential human rights or environmental issues, falls on third parties like the Plastic Standard, the project Marketer, etc. – not the brand. At the other end of the transaction, collectors and recyclers secure a new funding source. This is prime timing given the trend of plummeting commodity prices that prevent recycled material from overtaking virgin plastic commodity prices. Beyond the immediate environmental and health values that the removal of plastic from our oceans and communities create, credit funded projects can trigger multiple co-benefits. 

Environmental and Social Value: Depending on the project, credits generate various benefits for communities and ecosystems. For example, in Indonesia, Plastic Collective is supporting the rural community of Les Village in partnership with TK Maxx and Earthwatch Australia. Utilizing Plastic Collective’s micro-technology, the Mobile Shruder transforms plastic waste collected from households and businesses and recycles it into recycled plastic material, which Les Village sells. 

Source: Plastic Collective, Les Village project in Indonesia

This project has created 6 new jobs in the community over two years. While this example may solely sound like business benefits, it in fact catalyzes social and environmental outputs including:

  • A more environmentally educated community mitigates future plastic leakage into the environment

As a part of making this project sustainable at all levels, Plastic Collective engaged the community through environmental education and capacity building programs. Such engagement taught the community that their plastic waste has value, which mitigates future plastic leakage into the environment. Education also offers a two-way learning channel. As the community is engaged through education, the community provides feedback to Plastic Collective that is incorporated into the recycling project. Such feedback promotes the continuous improvement of the project to ensure it meets local needs and is more resilient on the long-term.

  • A healthier community 

Prior to the recycling project, families had no choice but to burn, dump, or bury plastic to dispose of the waste. These disposal practices, typical strategies in developing countries, can create health issues for those inhaling the smoke as well as for the community and biodiversity that relies on the rivers, oceans, and soil that mismanaged plastic waste pollutes.

  • New recycling jobs catalyze a ripple effect of opportunities including pride and environmental stewardship

In a small community like Les Village, such pride from a recycling job provides a consistent source of income that then triggers increased access to health, education, medical attention, etc. A job for one person, therefore, offers so much more than just income – a job offers an entire family health and economic safety nets. 

  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions

Plastic collection and recycling avoid greenhouse gas emissions from sources like ocean plastic degradation, incineration, and landfills. 

Policy Value: Credits can also support the passage of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation(6). When credits serve as start-up funds for a business to pilot a voluntary collection and/or recycling program, the pilot gives government “ammunition” to counter EPR legislation pushback as pilots offer proof-of-concept. The pilot simultaneously allows a business to obtain buy-in from senior leadership, including its board and investors, by demonstrating that a voluntary take-back and or recycling scheme is viable. Therefore, regardless of whether EPR legislation passes, voluntary corporate programs can potentially drive company-wide plastic stewardship adoption. When used in this manner, Plastic Credits  can compliment, not substitute, EPR legislation. 

Official Plastic Leadership Commitments and Claims

Setting plastic reduction targets, taking action, and communicating progress are essential to corporate leadership. Depending on several factors (see “Selecting Within & Beyond Value Chain Action, below), companies can choose from three official plastic stewardship claims and can apply these at the product, market, or company-wide level(7, 8, 9, 10):

Claim 1 - “Net Zero Plastic Leakage"
…means that an equivalent to the total weight of plastic put into a market is permanently removed from the environment. A company can achieve Net Zero Plastic Leakage through a combination of collection activities both within and beyond that company’s value chain, with any residual plastic leaked compensated for by retiring an equivalent amount of [] [Waste Collection Credits].” 

Claim Example: A cosmetics brand sells face moisturizer in plastic containers. During a one-year period, face moisturizer sales generate 10 tonnes of plastic waste that the company cannot guarantee is collected. For the brand to claim that the face moisturizer is Net Zero that year, it must either demonstrate collection of 10 tonnes of plastic waste or purchase an equivalent 10 tonnes of Waste Collection Credits.

Claim 2 - “Net 100% Recycled at End-of-Life"

…means that an equivalent to the total weight of plastic put into a market is recycled. A company can achieve Net 100% Recycled at End-of-Life through a combination of collection and recycling activities both within and beyond its value chain…to achieve this claim, a company should first attain Net Zero Plastic Leakage. Next, it should retire [ ] [Waste Recycling Credits] equivalent to the number of [ ] [Waste Collection Credits] used to achieve Net Zero Plastic Leakage to ensure that amount of plastic is recycled. Finally, it should compensate for any plastic collected but not recycled (i.e. that which is converted to energy or ends up in a landfill) by retiring an equivalent amount of [ ] [Waste Recycling Credits].” 

Claim Example: Continuing on from our example above, the same cosmetic brand selling a moisturizer product line may instead prefer to claim Net 100% Recycled at End-of-Life. In this case they may purchase 10 tonnes of each credit, Waste Collection Credits and Waste Recycling Credits, for a total of 20 tonnes of Plastic Credits. Alternatively, they can demonstrate collection and recycling for the same 20 tonnes total.

Claim 3 - “Net Circular Plastic"

…means that a product is composed of 100 percent recycled content and that the used plastic — or an equivalent amount of the same material type, compensated for through the retirement of plastic credits — is recycled. Net 100% Recycled at End-of-Life represents the outflow side of Net Circular Plastic.”

Claim Example: To reach the gold standard of plastic claims, the cosmetic brand will select a Net Circular Plastic claim for its moisturizer line. This requires the brand to procure 100% recycled plastic material to use for their moisturizer product, or purchase the equivalent in Recycled Material Credits. If solely using a credits strategy for the 10 tonnes of plastic in the moisturizer container, the brand would purchase 10 tonnes of Recycled Materials Credits, 10 tonnes of Waste Collection Credits, and 10 tonnes of Waste Recycling Credits. However, due to the limited availability of recycled material inputs and Recycled Material Credits on the market, it may be challenging for a brand to achieve this claim at this time. 

Some companies may choose to publicly phrase their commitments by using other claims beyond these above three examples. In such cases, the Plastic Standard encourages companies to follow several best practices.

How to Make Reputable Plastic Commitments & Claims

To align with best practice, commitments and claims must be explicit, clear, and independently verified(11). These three pillars mitigate potential reputational risks associated with greenwashing and bluewashing while promoting transparency and credibility. Regardless of whether a company adopts one of the three Plastic Standard claims or distinct claim, like Plastic Neutral, there are five elements to consider to reputably make such commitments:

Table 1: Elements of a Reputable Plastic Commitment & Claim(12)



Accounting methods

Approach used to calculate the amount of plastic in a footprint or that is leaked.
Approaches used in quantification of plastic credits used for compensating leakage or lack of recycling

Scope of compensation

Whether the claim includes the full environmental impact of the plastic, including all negative externalities of plastic in nature, or is limited to the mass of that plastic removed from the environment or fully recycled.

Whether compensation includes plastic inputs of a product, waste generated, assumed leakage or a combination of these.

Double counting

Clear attribution of plastic credits, EPR impacts, or other beyond value chain investments used, should be clearly (and solely) attributable to the company

Plastic credits

How plastic credit purchases fit into the company’s longer-term vision and strategy for reducing plastic pollution generated by their direct operations

Whether these claims refer to plastic that would have been removed from the environment in a business-as-usual scenario or with governmental support

Plastic credit serial numbers and registry references (to ensure that the credit has only been attributed to one buyer)

Information on the specific material type and geography of the plastic pollution for which the credits are intended to compensate

Level of circularity of claim

How close the commitment takes a company towards closing the plastic loop. For example, it is important to understand how the terms ‘out of’ or ‘recover’, if used in a claim, are defined: whether they mean ‘out of/recovered from the environment’ (and if so, what acceptable end-of-life scenarios are) or ‘out of/recovered from the waste stream and recycled’, or something else

Using Plastic Credits Credibly

Credits are designed to compliment a company’s overarching plastic reduction strategy and not as a silver bullet. A holistic strategy prioritizes activities in line with the waste hierarchy: reduce, reuse, and only then recycle (see Figure 2 below). As with many sustainability solutions, the plastic credit market’s ability to drive a positive impact will depend on how credits are used. In this age of radical transparency, companies and plastic credit programs will be held accountable by consumers, nonprofits, and investors if a company uses credits as a license to pollution. A credible plastic stewardship strategy will include several components:

  • An honest acknowledgment of the plastic problem and the company’s specific contribution to this issue
  • Measurable targets based on the Guidelines for Corporates
  • A transparent, public facing plan outlining clear, time-bound, and measurable targets 
  • Activities should address the four areas in Figure 2 below in descending priority, from top to bottom

Figure 2: Hierarchy of Plastic Footprint & Leakage Mitigation Activities(13)

As companies establish activities to lower their plastic footprint, Plastic Credits can be used as a transitional tool. When used responsibly, a company will lower their dependency on Plastic Credits as collection and recycling activities crystalize within their value chain. That said, there are two exceptions.

  1. Legacy plastic is typically retroactively managed by investing in beyond value chain collection and recycling projects, particularly via Plastic Credits(14),  and
  2. High-performing EPR programs do not divert 100% of plastic waste. Current strong programs have 70% to 80% recycling rates while lower performs hover at just 6%(15).  Plastic Credits can bridge this EPR performance gap.

Selecting Within & Beyond Value Chain Actions

While the first two actions in the above hierarchy entail changes within a company’s value chain, increasing recycling and collection can also be done by investing in activities beyond the value chain. Deciding on a within/beyond value chain approach differs for each business. This end-of-life choice typically hinges on a company’s:

  • level of ambition, 
  • capacity to execute, 
  • resource availability, 
  • operating environment policy context (i.e., EPR legislation, plastic tax, health and safety regulation targeting the medical and food industry, etc.), 
  • geography of operations and product sales, 
  • operating context with regards to differences in infrastructure, and
  • stewardship responsibility timespan (counteracting current/future plastic versus retroactively taking responsibility for legacy plastic previously put on the market) 

Many companies start with a beyond the value chain approach that leverages Plastic Credits. Credit funds are invested into a project that performs the collection and/or recycling on the business’ behalf. Such a solution is a particularly good fit for companies that:

  1. Have operations and/or consumers in Asia 
    Asia is a global plastic leakage hotspot, given poor waste management infrastructure. For that reason, many established community collection and recycling projects exist in the region and are in need of funding. This is exactly why our program at Plastic Collective began by supporting communities in Asia when we launched in 2016.
  2. Need time to establish their own, within value chain, collection and recycling take-back scheme
  3. Seek to take responsibility for past decades of plastic pollution

For decades, Western countries have shipped (and continue to) their waste to developing countries with poor waste management infrastructure. While some countries like China, via their 2018 National Sword Policy, closed their ports, others like Vietnam and Indonesia are granting wider access. Consequently, a handful of South East Asian countries have become plastic leakage hotspots polluting our oceans and communities. To retroactively take responsibility, companies are using Plastic Credits to fund Asia-based projects beyond their value chain. True leaders are also procuring recycled plastic material from their projects to include in their European and North American products – the demand origin of recycled plastic. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation & Plastic Standard Dynamic

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF) New Plastics Economy Global Commitment (Global Commitment) strongly complements the Plastic Standard. While a circular economy is the common goal, the two approaches differ. Comparing the types of commitments, plastic accounting baseline methodologies, reporting metrics, and mitigation activities reveals a complementary opportunity. 

The Global Commitment’s foremost focus is on upstream strategies within a company’s supply chain, particularly packaging. This emphasis is apparent in the overarching commitments companies sign onto achieving by 2025 that include(16):

  1. Take action to eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging 
  2. Take action to move from single-use towards reuse models where relevant 
  3. 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable 
  4. Set an ambitious recycled content target across all plastic packaging used 

A company’s progress in these above areas is gauged by metrics compared against a baseline that tracks the amount of plastic used by the business. Examples of metrics include: percent of reusable plastic packaging and percent of post consumer recycled content sourced(17). Since commitments, metrics, and the baseline center on plastic use prevention, a company will inevitably gravitate towards upstream plastic mitigation activities within their value chain that they can directly control. Upstream activities may include, for example, procuring bio-based and recycled plastic content to substitute for virgin plastic material and redesigning to reduce the amount plastic in a product line. While EMF’s Global Commitment offers companies a great entry point to plastic stewardship, several downstream opportunities also exist to transition to a circular economy within and beyond a company’s value chain.

The Plastic Standard and Guidelines for Corporates can support companies to responsibly manage unavoidable plastic downstream. Companies that have fully maximized the reduction of their plastic footprints have likely found themselves in one of three scenarios:

  1. Health and safety regulations prevent the company from lowering their plastic use. This is typical in the medical and food industry.
  2. Practically speaking, the company’s plastic stewardship champion(s) is unable, at that point in time, to obtain the necessary buy-in from senior leadership to lower the business’s plastic use. 
  3. The company is a global leader and has, given current technologies, exhausted plastic reduction efforts. Instead of being on standby passively, the company reorients from preventative to retroactive plastic action. This allows a company to address their legacy plastic pollution from decades past. (Note that this path is not reserved for global leaders and aspiring leaders are encouraged to explore this regenerative approach.) 

The Plastic Standard, and its complementary Guidelines for Corporates, offers such companies several levers for impact.

Companies can address downstream plastic waste within as well as beyond their value chain. A company can adopt one of several commitments: a) Net zero plastic leakage, b) Net 100% recycled at end-of-life, or c) Net circular plastic. (See “Official Plastic Leadership Commitments and Claims” section, above.) A company’s progress on these commitments depends on a plastic baseline and metrics that go beyond a company’s plastic use, as is the case with EMF, and includes plastic leakage as well as the direct and indirect impact of plastic pollutants on human health and the environment(18). One metric, for example, is the percent recycled and non-recycled content of plastic waste generated by downstream activities(19). Guided by the Standard’s best practices, companies can invest in plastic collection and recycling activities to responsibly manage their waste. Some companies choose to develop this collection and recycling infrastructure within their value chain; this is known as product stewardship. Others, however, will invest in the same infrastructure beyond their value chain. Such beyond value chain investments can take the form of plastic credits and/or product stewardship that is managed externally through a Producer Responsibility Organization(20).

The EMF’s Global Commitment and the Plastic Standard offer companies a holistic set of strategies to set and meet ambitious plastic reduction commitments. The Guidelines for Corporates strongly encourages businesses to utilize EMF’s annual Global Commitment Progress Report to simultaneously share progress on their Plastic Standard metrics. Only by addressing upstream and downstream plastic can we transition towards a circular economy while mitigating the harms from unavoidable plastic, both future and legacy.

Learn More!

Have other questions? Check out the FAQ section on Verra’s Plastic Standard webpage. Prefer to chat with a real person? We are happy to support you on this learning journey! Feel free to reach out to me directly ( at Plastic Collective, France.

1 Retrieved from on 14 February 2021

2 Human rights due diligence laws are one potential risk. Several such laws exist, including in Germany. The European Commission is scheduled to vote in March 2021 on mandatory due diligence legislation for companies procuring materials from suppliers that violate human rights

Legacy Plastic: For decades, Western countries have (and continue to) shipped their waste to developing countries with poor waste management infrastructure. While some countries like China, via their 2018 National Sword Policy, have closed their ports, others like Vietnam and Indonesia have granted wider access. Consequently, a handful of South East Asian countries have become waste hotspots that leak plastic into oceans. Given this context, companies frequently source recycled plastic from the East to include in European and North American products, which is the demand origin for recycled plastic. 

4 Plastic Collective, 2021

5 For more guidance, see below sections titled, “Official Plastic Leadership Commitments and Claims” and “How to Make Reputable Plastic Commitments and Claims”

Product Stewardship Institute, a US-based nonprofit, defines these terms as follows. “Product Stewardship is the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages, while also maximizing economic benefits…Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law…EPR is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the manufacturer’s responsibility for its product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging.”

7 Plastic claims quote the official 3R Initiative wording retrieved on 15 February 2021 from (emphasis added)

8 Plastic claims quote the official 3R Initiative wording retrieved on 15 February 2021 from (emphasis added)

9 Plastic claim quotes the official 3R Initiative wording retrieved on 15 February 2021 from (emphasis added)

10 The latter Recycled Material Credits are currently under development by the Recycled Material Standard.

11 See section 4.4 in the Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship

12 Table 1 cites the Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship, published February 2021. Retrieved on 15 February 2021 from 

13 Image obtained from the Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship, published February 2021 and retrieved on 15 February 2021 from

14 Note: A company can directly establish a collection and recycling project for legacy plastic, but this is not common in practice.

15 Product Stewardship Institute, 2021. Retrieved from

16 Global Commitment Definitions 2020, retrieved from on 23 February 2021, emphasis added.

17 Organisation Reports: Global Commitment 2020 Progress Report, retrieved from on 23 February 2021.

18 Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship, published February 2021 and retrieved on 15 February 2021 from

19 Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship, published February 2021 and retrieved on 15 February 2021 from

20 For information on the role of Producer Responsibility Organizations, refer to the “Who does what?” section here: 

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