A Waste Reduction Campaign is on the Move, With Some Big Backers

Efforts to target plastic waste are gaining steam among environmentalists and their funders. We're seeing this trend globally, with a growing push to reduce plastic waste in oceans, and also in the United States, with many municipalities either enacting plastic bag bans or considering them. 

One interesting player in this fight is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose “circular economy” mission has picked up a lot of steam and huge corporate backers since launching in 2010. That includes major funding for a new plastic waste reduction push.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a U.K.-based nonprofit devoted to advancing a circular economy, which is essentially the idea of applying reduce, reuse, recycle principles across industry, although with a little more complexity. Instead of adjustments around the edges, it’s seeking a systemic overhaul that stresses recycling materials and repurposing equipment and products, replacing a “linear” economy that extracts resources to make products, which are then discarded.  

The organization’s name pops up often in relation to its research on the economic benefits of shifting to a circular economy, but it caught our eye following the recent Our Ocean conference, in which it joined leading funders in making a major commitment to marine conservation. The organization committed $10 million to its three-year New Plastics Economy initiative, which seeks to redesign plastic packaging, replace plastics with sustainable materials, and reduce the number of single-use products. 

Related: Philanthropy’s Part in a Flurry of Global Ocean Protection Commitments

But the charity, which was founded by the record-breaking, long-distance yachtswoman of the same name, has made a lot of strides in a short time, partnering with huge global businesses and other entities that fund its work. The foundation launched with funding from founding partners that include Cisco, National Grid, and Renault. 

Today, funds come from a mix of sources—for one, the foundation has amassed more huge corporate partners, including Google, Nike, Philips and Unilever. Support also comes from members of its Circular Economy 100 program, a collective of entities that includes startups, large corporations like Apple and Coca Cola, universities and governments.  

One of the latest such backers is the Dow Chemical Company, which committed $1.4 million, also at the Our Ocean conference, to the foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. As plastic ocean pollution becomes a bigger issue among funders and nonprofits, the plastics program looks to be really heating up, as it also landed $1.13 million from the global oceans funder the Oak Foundation

Related:A Top Conservation Funder Shifts to Give New Attention to Fisheries and Plastic Trash

While it’s largely defined by its relationship with and financial support from industry, marine conservation foundations like Oak are joining the mix. Swiss-based MAVA Foundation has supported Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s research. In 2016, the organization announced its first philanthropic partner, Germany's SUN, while signaling more to come.

The group also has established a yearlong fellowship in tandem with the Schmidt Family Foundation and 14 universities—the Schmidt MacArthur Fellowship, which goes to postgraduate design, engineering and business students.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation seems to have a knack for drawing companies into its vision, in large part due to its compelling argument for the cost savings to be gained. But growing concern for ocean health among large funders stands to similarly fill up its coffers, suggesting this is not the last we’ll hear from this rising star.