Just 20 firms responsible for over half the world's single-use plastic waste – report
Daniel Harries
A 'plastic trash sea' near Honduras. /CFP

A 'plastic trash sea' near Honduras. /CFP


Only 20 companies are responsible for more than half of all the world's single-use plastic products thrown away globally, a study has found. 

Researchers analyzed the corporate network responsible for plastic production, looking at 1,000 factories that make the raw materials for single-use plastics, including food packaging and plastic bags that can take up to 500 years to decompose. 

Vast quantities of single-use plastics end up in the world's oceans, degrading the environment for marine life and polluting the water. 



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The Plastic Waste Makers Index, identified the companies at the initial stages of plastic production, which make polymers – the substance at the foundation of all plastics.  

The companies include U.S.-based giants such as ExxonMobil and Dow and Chinese chemicals corporation Sinopec, Indorama Ventures and Saudi Aramco, among others. 

According to the study, ExxonMobil, one of the world's most profitable companies, contributes 5.9 million tonnes to global plastic waste. 

The study also names the financial backers of the companies. Asset managers – led by the U.S.-based Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group – hold more than $300 billion worth of shares in the companies behind single-use plastic polymer producers. Of this, $10 billion is directly linked to single-use polymer production.

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Researchers from the London School of Economics and Stockholm Environment Institute, among other institutions, developed the study, which also looked at the waste generated per person. The index was published by the Minderoo Foundation, an Australian philanthropic organization set up by Andrew and Nicola Forrest. Mr Forrest is chairman of Fortescue Metals, one of the largest suppliers of iron ore in the world, based in Western Australia.

The U.S. and Australia, respectively, produce the largest amounts of single-use plastic waste per head of pollution, at more than 50 kilograms per person, per year. The UK comes in fourth, at over 40 kilograms generated per person, while the average person in China produces 18 kilograms of single-use plastic waste per year. In India, it is as low as 4 kilograms per year.




The report notes how the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the production of single-use plastics, with the demand for masks and other protective equipment skyrocketing. Investors then, stung by the drop in the oil price during the outbreak, sought profits in the surging stocks of single-use plastics firms. 

"The plastification of our oceans and the warming of our planet are among the greatest threats humanity and nature have ever confronted," notes Andrew Forrest. "Global efforts will not be enough to reverse this crisis unless government, business and financial leaders act in our children's and grandchildren's interests."

The report calls for new rules around plastic production. Companies should be "required to disclose their plastic waste footprint," while investors should "shift capital" to "companies using recycled plastic feedstocks."

Forrest says: "We must act now. Because while we bicker, the oceans are getting trashed with plastic, and the environment is getting destroyed by global warming."

In a report published earlier this year, ExxonMobil stated that the company "is taking action to help address plastic waste in the environment by increasing plastic recyclability and supporting improvements in plastic waste recovery."

ExxonMobil has helped set up the Alliance to End Plastic Waste – an industry organization that includes Dow and Royal Dutch Shell – that has pledged $1.5 billion by 2024 to reduce plastic pollution.


Video animator: James Sandifer 

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