55% of the World’s Plastic Pollution Comes From Only 20 Companies: Study
Just 20 companies from around the around are responsible for producing more than half of the world’s single-use plastics — disposable plastics that contribute significantly to plastic pollution, according to a new study.
Single-use plastic can including anything from grocery bags and food packaging to bottles, containers, and cutlery; since plastic waste does not biodegrade, most of it ends up in landfills, oceans, waterways, and the environment. It is estimated that the global capacity to produce single-use plastics could grow by more than 30% in the next five years — an alarming prospect given that plastic is already everywhere.
Published by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation this week, the report illustrates the source and scale of this waste. “This is the first time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source,” Toby Gardner, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, an organization which was involved in the research, told CNBC News.
ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest gas corporations based out of the U.S.; Dow, an American multinational chemical manufacturer; and Sinopec, a Chinese petroleum and chemical company were found to single-handedly contribute 16% to the world’s plastic pollution, the study noted. The only Indian company on the list is Reliance Industries — which operates in oil, gas, and petrochemical industries — contributing roughly 3.9 million metric tons to global plastic waste.
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This ubiquity of plastics has large-scale ramifications on our ecosystem and threatens our future — by contributing to climate change and threatening food safety and quality, besides directly harming our health, alongside that of marine animals. Single-use plastic is present in the oceans, the soil, sea breeze, in rain and snow, and also, in our food — so much so that we could be eating one credit card worth of plastic each week. Last December, plastic waste was also found in the placenta of live pregnancies.
“The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined,” Al Gore, former Vice President of the U.S., said in a statement. He also commented on the inaction of companies who deflect responsibility — shifting the onus on individual users and activists to respond to the problem. “As awareness of the toll of plastic pollution has grown, [the companies] told us it’s our own fault and has directed attention toward behavior change from end-users of these products, rather than addressing the problem at its source,” Al Gore added.
Organizations like Break Free From Plastic run annual audits to find out the world’s top plastic polluting brands, but research on companies that manufacture the plastics in the first place had been lacking until now. However, calling out the brands responsible for plastic wastage has not produced significant results so far — with companies like CocaCola and Nestlé leading the list year after year despite widespread criticism. Through the present study, researchers hope that identifying the companies that supply these brands with plastics might address the problem.
Further, researchers recommend that in order to increase accountability among companies, it is also critical to urge transparency, and target companies’ commercial funding, which comes through investors and banks who support them. The study notably drew up a list of the banks that finance these companies, including leading international banks like Barclays, HSBC, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs. Turns out, 20 banks from around the world are behind almost 60% of the plastic waste crisis. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure… this is why it is so important the small group of companies and banks that dominate the global production of throwaway plastics begin to disclose their own data,” Toby Gardner noted.
Al Gore sums up the need for urgent action: “Just as disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions was the first step towards creating global targets for reductions, disclosure of funding for and production of single-use plastic is necessary to turn the tide on this escalating problem.”