More than half of waste from single-use plastics can be traced to 20 companies, study finds

TORONTO — A new study has revealed that just 20 companies account for more than 50 per cent of all single-use plastic in the world, while another 20 financial institutions are enabling these companies.

The Plastic Waste Makers Index, released on Wednesday from the Australia-based Minderoo Foundation, found that just 20 polymer producers accounted for 57.3 million tonnes of single-use plastic waste in 2019.

The report states that environmentalists have previously placed the blame for plastic waste on packaged goods companies such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, but this report now points the finger at the small group of polymer manufacturers.

“Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it,” Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore said in a news release. “The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined.”

Overall, the U.S.-based ExxonMobil was the worst producer, accounting for 5.9 million tonnes of single-use plastic waste in 2019., followed by Dow at 5.6 million tonnes and the Chinese company Sinopec at 5.3 million tonnes.

The Calgary-based Nova Chemicals Corporation, was the worst Canadian company, coming in at number 21 with an estimated 1.3 million tonnes of single-use plastic waste in 2019.

In an email, a spokesperson from Nova Chemicals Corporation forwarded a statement from Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), who called the report “misleading” noting that it failed to mention the importance of plastics for sustainable infrastructure projects, such as solar panels and wind turbines.

“The world needs plastic to live more sustainably, and America’s plastic makers are leading the development of solutions to end plastic waste,” Baca said in the statement. “We’re innovating and investing in efforts to create a more circular economy, where used plastics are systematically remanufactured to make new plastics and other products.”

Gore, meanwhile, said the petrochemical companies responsible for the majority of plastic waste need to be held accountable.

“As awareness of the toll of plastic pollution has grown, the petrochemical industry has told us it’s our own fault and has directed attention toward behaviour change from end-users of these products, rather than addressing the problem at its source,” he said.

Single-use plastics – as the name suggests – are plastic products that are used once and then discarded, such as plastic grocery bags, food containers and water bottles. According to the Nature Conversancy of Canada (NCC), 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced in Canada each year, at 86 per cent of it ends up in a landfill.

The NCC also estimates that 700 species have been impacted by plastics and microplastics found in their ecosystem.

“The plastification of our oceans and the warming of our planet are amongst the greatest threats humanity and nature have ever confronted,” Andrew Forrest, chairman and co-founder of the Minderoo Foundation, said in a news release. “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.”

Forrest, one of the richest people in Australia, made his fortune primarily out of the mining industry and is a former CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, the fourth-largest iron ore producer in the world.

The study also examined the investment firms and banks that have been supporting the polymer producers. It found that 20 of the largest banks in the world, including Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, have lent an estimated US$30 billion to produce these plastics.

Scotiabank is thetop Canadian bank on the list at number 29, having lent an estimated US$800 million to polymer production companies. Royal Bank of Canada (41), Toronto-Dominion Bank (43), Export Development Canada (58) and BMO Financial Group (61) each cracked the Top 100 as well.

As part of the report, the Minderoo Foundation is calling for petrochemical companies to be required to disclose their plastic waste footprint and for banks and investors to shift funding away from companies that produce single-use plastic from new materials.

“Stop making new plastic and start using recycled plastic waste,” Forrest said in the release. “Re-allocate capital from virgin producers to those using recycled materials, and … redesign plastic so it does no harm and is compostable, so like every other element, it returns to its original molecules, not nano-plastics.” 

“We must act now, because while we bicker, the oceans are getting trashed with plastic and the environment is getting destroyed by global warming.”

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