ReSource Initiative: Are the world’s biggest brands meeting their plastics commitments?

The latest annual update from the WWF-led ReSource: plastic initiative has found that the total plastics tonnage of members increased by 5.3% year-on-year to 7.2 million metric tonnes in 2021, however, net volumes are down
December 22, 2022

Plastics tonnage shows a year-on-year increase

The latest annual update from the WWF-led ReSource: plastic initiative has found that the total plastics tonnage of members increased by 5.3% year-on-year to 7.2 million metric tonnes in 2021. The research argues that this is partly due to a rebound in volumes after pandemic-related declines and an increase in sales for some members.

The scheme, launched in May 2019, began with just five Principal Members- Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald’s Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, and The Coca-Cola Company. Since then, three additional members- Amcor, Colgate-Palmolive, and Kimberly-Clark, have joined, alongside CVS Health which has joined as a Principal Retail Member. ReSource: Plastic was launched by WWF to help companies translate their plastic commitments into action. This takes the form of helping corporations measure their plastic footprint before supporting the development and implementation of specific actions to reach long-term, large-scale ambitions to cut single-use plastic production and distribution[i].  Using the ‘ReSource Footprint Tracker’, businesses can measure corporate action against ReSource’s tracking system. This includes:

  • Eliminating unnecessary plastic through business model innovation, reduction, and substitution
  • For plastic that is necessary, shifting from virgin plastic sourcing to sustainable inputs, including recycled content, responsibly sourced biobased content and advanced materials.
  • Doubling global collection, recycling, and composting of plastic so that the plastic going into the system is circulated back[ii].

Plastics intensity is declining, and recycling is increasing

There are signs of improvement and progress. When looking at net sales & tonnage to measure plastic ‘intensity’, year-on-year volumes have fallen for 6 out of 8 member organisations.

Figure one: Changes in total tonnage normalised by net sales or units sold since each Member’s baseline year

Source: WWF

Further, the results find that usage of recycled content across the aggregate portfolio has increased from 8% in 2020 to 10.2% in 2021. The findings raise the question of whether member organisations are not solely focusing on eradicating unnecessary plastics but are instead increasing recycling rates to mask tonnage increases, skewing their plastics portfolios to show a net decrease. In many regions companies are increasing recycling rates due to regulatory drivers. In the UK this includes the recent consultation on changes to the packaging waste recycling note (PRN) and the packaging waste export recycling note (PERN) systems[iii], which could see changes targeting lack of transparency, as well as issues with fraudulent issuing of notes. Across the globe, we have also seen growth in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which places targets on producers, importers and brand owners for the reuse and recycling of plastics[iv].

Encouragingly, however, there has also been a decrease in the proportion of so-called ‘problematic plastics’ contained within the portfolio- these now represent 1.3%. Problematic plastics refer to small plastics, PS (polystyrene) and PVC, which aren’t recyclable. In fact, WRAP, a UK climate NGO, singled out plastic wrapping and PVC clingfilm as two of the five problematic plastics they wish to see eradicated by the end of this year.[v]

Additionally, based on the scheme’s waste management model, it was found that in 2021, 34% of members’ plastic footprint was recycled, 9% was incinerated, 43% landfilled, and 15% mismanaged. Whilst not yet reached, the end goal of the scheme is laudable, and it is hoped more corporations will join, given WWF’s findings that “as few as 100 companies have the potential to prevent roughly 50 million metric tons of the world’s plastic waste by 2030”[vi].

Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste and Business at WWF, Erin Simon, said:

“ReSource members are taking their plastic waste footprint seriously and being transparent about how they are working to address it. Measurement and data sharing are critical first steps. The next, more challenging step is ramping up the pace of progress.”[vii]

She added: “There is a path forward. This will be difficult but it’s still very possible to meet our goals. The investments we’re seeing beyond the supply chain are a good example of the ambition I want to see in all areas, and they will continue to accelerate the systems change we need to solve the global plastics crisis.”[viii]

Plastics treaty still under discussion

The findings come as UN-led talks continue around a legally binding international treaty on plastic reduction, to be agreed upon by 2024:  “The agreement will reflect ‘diverse alternatives’ to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable materials, and the need for more international collaboration in support of technology, capacity building, and scientific cooperation.”

As we noted in our blog on the circular economy & Christmas, a recent survey was carried out on behalf of WWF and the Plastic Free Foundation, asking over 23,000 people from 34 countries for their views on the plastics treaty. It found that 7 out of 10 people believe that the treaty should create binding global rules to end plastic pollution, and almost 8 in 10 support rules for making producers more responsible for the plastic they generate, bans on difficult-to-recycle plastics and labelling requirements.


[i] Companies signed up to WWF’s ReSource Plastic initiative actually increased plastic production last year - edie

[ii] 9dsv7winop_WWF_Transparent_2022_FINAL_12.5.22.pdf (

[iii] Packaging waste recycling notes reform - GOV.UK (


[v] Eliminating problem plastics | WRAP

[vi] 9dsv7winop_WWF_Transparent_2022_FINAL_12.5.22.pdf (

[vii] Report evaluates progress on plastic footprints for "world’s biggest brands" (

[viii] Ibid

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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