The first Plastic Waste Makers Index, published by Australian philanthropic foundation Minderoo, calculated that 20 companies – mostly energy and chemical giants – account for half of the single-use plastic waste in Australia. the world.
Single-use plastics – such as face masks, medical equipment, shopping bags, coffee mugs, and cling film – are made from polymers, which use fossil fuels as their basic material.
In 2019, 130 million tonnes of single-use plastics were thrown around the world, of which 35% were burned, 31% buried in managed landfills and 19% dumped directly on land or in the ocean, a report on the index.
The index used a range of data sources to track the flow of single-use plastics throughout their lifecycle – from polymeric form to finished products to waste – and estimated where they were produced. , converted, consumed and disposed of.
ExxonMobil said in emailed comments that it “shares and agrees society’s concerns about plastic waste need to be addressed,” which requires a collaborative effort between businesses, governments, groups greens and consumers.
He added that he was taking action to tackle plastic waste by increasing recyclability, supporting efforts to recover more plastic waste and working on advanced recycling solutions that could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse related products.
The report states that nearly 60% of the single-use plastics industry’s trade funding comes from 20 global banks that have loaned nearly $ 30 billion for polymer production since 2011.
In a foreword, former US Vice President Al Gore said the climate and plastic waste crises are “increasingly intertwined”, with the atmosphere being treated as an “open sewer” for heating emissions to the planet and the ocean as a “liquid landfill” for plastic waste. .
But as the electricity and transportation sectors shift to clean energy, companies that extract and sell fossil fuels “scramble to massively expand” their petrochemical market, three-quarters of which is in the production of plastics, he wrote.
“Since most plastics are made from oil and gas – especially fractured gas – the production and consumption of plastic is becoming a major driver of the climate crisis, already producing greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse at the same scale as a large country, ”he added. .
Academic estimates of the carbon footprint of plastics indicated that the entire lifecycle of single-use plastics accounted for around 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, with polymers being the main contributor, according to the authors of the report.
On their current growth path, single-use plastics could be responsible for 5-10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if the world meets the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming climate to less than 2 degrees Celsius, they added.
The Minderoo Foundation said petrochemical companies should be required to disclose their “plastic waste footprint” and commit to producing plastics from recycled plastic waste rather than fossil fuels.
He also called on banks and investors to shift their money from companies that produce new virgin plastics made from fossil fuels to those that use recycled plastic raw materials.
Sam Fankhauser, professor of climate change economics and policy at the University of Oxford’s Smith School and contributor to the report, said it was important to clarify the role of different companies in the plastics value chain , as most of the pressure so far has focused on retailers.
A plastic bag, for example, is not named after the petrochemical company that made its main ingredient, but rather the supermarket whose goods it is designed to carry, he noted.
“We just don’t know enough about this channel – it allows people to hide behind it,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Greater transparency and disclosure by companies and banks of their involvement in the production or financing of single-use plastics could encourage consumers, and then shareholders, to start pushing, as climate change shows, has he added.