The first Plastic Waste Producers Index, published by the Australian-based charity Minderoo, estimates that 20 companies – mainly energy and chemical giants – are the source of half of the world’s single-use plastic waste.
Disposable plastics – such as face masks, medical equipment, shopping bags, coffee cups and cling film – are made from polymers that use fossil fuels as their base material.
In 2019, 130 million metric tons of disposable plastics were dumped worldwide, with 35% burned, 31% buried in managed landfills and 19% dumped directly on land or in the ocean, the index said in a report.
The index uses a number of data sources to track the flow of disposable plastic materials throughout their life cycle ̵
ExxonMobil topped the index of single-use plastic waste generators, contributing 5.9 million tonnes in 2019, according to a report developed by energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie and researchers at think tanks and universities.
ExxonMobil said in comments via email that it “shares public concerns about plastic waste and agrees that attention should be paid”, calling for joint efforts between businesses, governments, green groups and consumers.
He added that he is taking action to tackle plastic waste by increasing recyclability, supporting efforts to recycle more plastic waste and working on improved recycling solutions that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from products.
The report says nearly 60 percent of the trade finance for the disposable plastics industry comes from 20 global banks, which have borrowed nearly $ 30 billion to produce polymers since 2011.
In a preface, former US Vice President Al Gore said the climate crisis and plastic waste were “increasingly intertwined”, with the atmosphere being treated as an “open sewer” to heat the planets 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 are struggling to expand their petrochemical market, three-quarters of which is plastics.
“As most plastics are produced from oil and gas – especially cracking gas – plastic production and consumption are becoming an important driver of the climate crisis, already producing greenhouse gas emissions on the same scale as a large country,” he added.
Academic estimates of the carbon footprint of plastics show that the entire life cycle of single-use plastics accounts for about 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, with polymers making the main contribution, the report said.
In 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’s goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, they added. they.
The Minderoo Foundation said petrochemical companies should be required to disclose their “plastic waste footprint” and commit to producing plastics from recycled plastic waste, not fossil fuels.
He also called on banks and investors to shift their money from companies that produce new raw plastics based on fossil fuels to those that use recycled plastic raw materials.
Sam Fanhauser, a professor of economics and climate change at Oxford University at Smith School and a contributor to the report, said clarifying the roles that different companies play in the plastics value chain is important because as the greatest pressure so far has been on retailers.
For example, a plastic bag does not show the name of the petrochemical company that made its main ingredient, but rather the supermarket whose goods it is intended to carry, he noted.
“We just don’t know enough about this chain – 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 take action, as seen by climate change, he added. he.