Unveiling the source of the single-use plastics crisis
Single-use plastics – the cheap plastic goods we use once and then throw away – epitomize the plastics crisis.
Whilst they provide an inexpensive and convenient option, that convenience comes at a cost.
Single-use plastic accounts for over a third of all plastic manufactured every year, and the majority of plastic thrown away - 130 million tonnes a year.
Almost 98 per cent of single-use plastic is made from virgin fossil fuels – plastic created without any recycled materials. Plastic produced for the very first time.
This plastic is turned into bags, bottles, takeaway cutlery, straws, packaging, disposable face masks and more. Most are used just once and discarded.
Whilst some finds its way into recycling facilities, most does not. In fact, only nine per cent of all plastic is ever recycled. The rest is buried, burnt, or dumped in our environment.
Plastic can now be found everywhere, from the bottom of the oceans, inside animals, in the air we breathe, in rain, and our bodies.
To date, much of the blame for the single-use plastic problem has been placed on the companies who utilise it for their products. But we need to move further up the chain to find the gatekeepers of plastic production.
We have done just that and analysed the end-to-end plastics supply chain to link single-use plastic waste back to the companies that first produce plastic polymers – the building blocks of all plastics; and the companies
who finance it.
the source of the problem:
While the plastic issue is a complex, global problem, we have found a surprisingly small number of companies account for the majority of the world’s production of polymers destined for single-use plastic waste.
We have unearthed a paper trail of evidence which tracks plastic polymers as they leave the factories, follows them as they are traded around the world and converted into single-use plastics, and reveals where they are finally used and thrown away.
In this report, we identify for the first time the companies who produce the polymers that account for the vast majority of single-use plastic waste globally.
ExxonMobil and Dow – both based in the USA – top the list, followed by China-based Sinopec, with these three companies together accounting for 16 per cent of global production of polymers destined for single-use plastic waste.
While the leading 20 companies contribute to greater than half the world’s polymer production destined for single-use plastic waste.
And 100 single-use polymer producers account share responsibility for more than 90 per cent of all global plastic waste.
To an unnerving extent, a very small number of companies hold the fate of the world’s plastic crisis in their hands.
To stand any chance of ending the plastic waste crisis – and the negative impacts on our environment and health – we need these companies to produce polymers from sustainable materials, not virgin fossil fuels.
But there has been a collective industry failure to do so – only two per cent of single-use plastic produced in 2019 was from recycled plastic or bio-based feedstocks.
These global companies are paying lip service to sustainability - almost all have plans to increase their virgin plastic production capacity
rather than reduce it.
The largest polymer producers are enabled by global financial institutions, who are investors in these companies, or provide banking services such as loans to fund working capital and expansion plans.
20 of the world’s largest banks, topped by Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America, are estimated to have lent almost US$30 billion to single-use plastic polymer production since 2011.
20 institutional asset managers – including pension funds and mutual funds – led by Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group, hold US$10 billion worth of shares related to the production of virgin polymers for single-use plastics.
A small number of institutional asset managers and global banks are providing billions of dollars to companies that produce polymers from fossil fuels, and only a fraction to companies trying to shift to a circular plastic economy. This asymmetry urgently needs to be reversed.
In the next five years, global production of virgin single-use plastic polymers from fossil fuels is forecast to increase by over 30 per cent.
Most of this new plastic will be destined for developing countries where waste is widely mismanaged. An environmental and human health catastrophe looms.
We need real action from the companies named in the Plastic Waste Makers Index, along with great political will and action from governments and policy makers if we are to match the scale of the problem.
Turn off the tap of virgin polymer production - create regulatory incentives to produce plastics from sustainable materials
Insist on mandatory ‘single-use plastics footprint’ reporting from plastics producers and financial institutions
Accelerate progress towards a global treaty for plastic pollution
Disclose ‘single-use plastics footprint’
Provide data to improve transparency tracking efforts like the Plastic Waste Makers Index
Quit playing lip service to sustainability - set real commitments and report publicly on fossil fuel feedstock use
Sign up to Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circulytics tool
INVESTORS & BANKS
Disclose single-use plastic waste generation associated with loans and investments
Adopt policies and targets that shift capital, investments and finance to companies using recycled plastic or sustainable feedstocks
Use our methods to inform capital allocation decisions and shareholder action
Let the companies on the Plastic Waste Makers Index know…
We see you. You cannot hide behind the brands.
We hear you and your lip service to sustainability.
We demand change. You have the power to save the world from plastic pollution.
Contact a company now.