A world tour that inspired change
Since she’d been four years old, Ellen had dreamed of travelling the world by boat. She learned how to sail early on, influenced by her family, and her adventurous and daring spirit led her to enter the Vendée Globe in 2001 when she was only 24 years old. The Vendée Globe is the world’s largest and most challenging sailing race, solo and without stops. Ninety-four days after the match, Ellen finished second and was recognised internationally.
In 2008, she broke the world record in a sailing boat, solo – the first woman to do so. It took 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 33 seconds. Ellen MacArthur was later ordained by Queen Elizabeth II as Dame (the female equivalent of the Knight title) and received the Legion of Honour of the French Republic.
To prepare the trip – and always set on breaking the then record of 72 days – Ellen MacArthur reduced what she took on the sailboat to the bare minimum, not to add unnecessary weight. All grams count when excessive weight is dispensable. Planning the provisions to “the last food pack” showed her how to live with limited resources.
On the 25th day of the trip that gave her the world record, Ellen wrote she had run out of muesli bars and porridge, the basis of the diet on board. Food – freeze-dried foods, dried fruits, milk powder, crackers, and toffees – had gone faster than expected and stopping at some port to restock was not even an option.
The lonely circumnavigation trip was profoundly inspiring for Ellen MacArthur and truly changed her life. During these lonely 71 days, the boat and everything inside became her entire world. The British sailor understood something that no other experience in her life could have shown to her so clearly: things are “finite”, in the sense of having an end, a limit.
And it made her understand something more significant than her, than her sailboat, or even her love of navigation: Earth’s resources are also finite, and we need to take care of the planet that welcomes us.
Like the experience she lived aboard, Ellen MacArthur realized that the world outside the sailboat depends on finite, brief, limited resources consumed too quickly.
She spent the following years studying and researching ways to disconnect from the current economic model, in which the logic is that everything is “disposable”, and walk towards a circular economy, in which resources, after being used, are reused, recovered, and transformed – giving them new purposes.
The new route towards a circular economy
Despite her love of the sea, Ellen withdrew from competing in 2009, so she could focus entirely on her new mission: being a catalyst for change. Using her strength and charisma, in 2010, Ellen created a Foundation with her name, set to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy.
Since its creation, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been an active agent, pushing the topic of the circular economy on the agendas of governments, universities, businesses, and the media. Together with its partners, the Foundation promotes knowledge, explores opportunities for collaboration, and develops initiatives and solutions for a circular economy.
The Ellen MacArthur foundation reports have made it impossible to continue ignoring the monumental elephant in the room – more specifically, the millions and millions of tons of plastic that pollute the planet.
Plastic is an “eternal” problem. It is virtually indestructible and releases toxic substances into the systems it pollutes. The plastic pollution crisis has led governments worldwide to implement measures to reduce the consumption of plastic and eliminate disposable and single-use plastics as much as possible.
Applying the circular economy principles to plastic waste management, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the New Plastics Economy.
The Global Commitment of the New Plastics Economy
Plastic management is one of the primary areas of action of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Recycling and reducing consumption alone cannot solve the plastic pollution problem. The whole system around production has to be rethought, including how plastic is projected, used, and reused.
The global vision of the New Plastic Economy is a circular economy for plastics, in which they never become “rubbish”. This vision has three fundamental actions: eliminating, innovating, and circulating.
To achieve this purpose, we must start eliminating all problematic and unnecessary plastic items, innovating to guarantee reusable, recyclable or computable plastics and circulate by reinserting the already used plastics into the economy.
The New Plastic Economy predicts that through design, innovation, and new business models, it is possible to eliminate unnecessary and disposable plastic packaging and make plastic packaging fully recyclable, reusable, compostable, and free of hazardous chemicals. Ideally, it is possible to completely disconnect the use of plastic from consuming natural resources – which are finite.
Remember that without a drastic change in the way the production, life cycle and valorisation of plastic are managed, by 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Get to know the 14 types of plastic most found in the oceans.
Jerónimo Martins and the vision of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Knowing that natural resources are precious, the Jerónimo Martins Group became a founding member of the Portuguese Pact for Plastics. This collaborative platform is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Pact Network, and is coordinated by Smart Waste Portugal.
The Portuguese Pact for Plastics vision is similar to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s overall vision: to achieve a circular economy for plastic in Portugal so that it never becomes waste. Two years after its launch, the Pact already includes more than 100 organisations.
The Jerónimo Martins Group has committed to:
- Ensure that all Private Brand plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable.
- Incorporate at least 25% recycled content into Private Brand plastic packaging.
- Reduce by 10%, compared to 2018, the specific consumption of plastic, measured in tonnes of plastic packaging per million euros of turnover.
In addition, the Group is one of the few food retailers globally that publicly discloses the amount of single-use plastics for which it is responsible, taking a stance of total transparency.