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Over Half of the World’s Plastic Waste Created by 20 Companies: ‘Catastrophe Beckons’

A report has revealed that 20 companies are responsible for producing 55 per cent of all single-use plastic waste generated globally, with ExxonMobil topping the list.

The Plastic Waste Makers Index also identifies the banks and financial institutions that fund the production of single-use plastic, tens of millions of tonnes of which ends up as pollution each year.

Much of the blame for single-use plastic pollution has tended to be laid at the door of well-known brands that use it in their products and packaging, but this new report sheds light on the petrochemical companies that are manufacturing the polymers that form single-use plastics, and the banks and financial institutions that are funding them.

Al Gore, the former U.S. Vice President, said in a statement: “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 behavior change from end-users of these products, rather than addressing the problem at its source.”

The report found that 55 percent of the world’s plastic waste is produced by just 20 companies, with ExxonMobil, Dow, Sinopec, Indorama Ventures, and Saudi Aramco coming top.

Since 2011, 20 of the world’s largest banks have loaned an estimated US$30 billion for the production of polymers that make single-use plastic products, such as bags, bottles, plastic cutlery, straws, packaging and disposable face masks. The top institutions include: Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and HSBC.

This represents nearly 60 per cent of the total commercial finance funding the production of single-use plastic.

Furthermore, 20 institutional asset managers hold more than $300 billion worth of shares in the parent companies of polymer producers, of which an estimated $10 billion is directly linked to single-use polymer production. The top five are: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the People’s Republic of China, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Ambani Family, and Vanguard Group.

98 per cent of single-use plastic is made from virgin fossil fuels, without any recycled materials. The report also found that global capacity to produce virgin polymers for single-use plastics could surge by over 30 per cent in the next five years, with some companies planning to increase the production of virgin polymers by 400 per cent.

The authors of the report have dubbed these petrochemical companies, banks and financial institutions the “‘gatekeepers’ of plastic production,” and say that “an environmental catastrophe beckons.”

The report says: “These global companies are paying lip service to sustainability—almost all have plans to increase their virgin plastic production capacity rather than reduce it.”

In 2019, more than 130 million tonnes of single-use plastic ended up as waste. The report predicts that the petrochemical industry’s planned increase in production of single-use plastics will lead to an extra three trillion items of throwaway plastic waste by 2025.

Toby Gardner, senior research fellow at Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a statement: “This is the first-time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source.”

Andrew Forrest, the chairman and co-founder of the Minderoo Foundation that published the report, said in a statement that “global efforts will not be enough to reverse this crisis” unless governments, businesses and financial leaders “act now.”

“This means: stop making new plastic and start using recycled plastic waste, it means re-allocate capital from virgin producers to those using recycled materials, and importantly, it means redesign plastic so it does no harm and is compostable, so like every other element, it returns to its original molecules, not nano-plastics,” he said.

The full Plastic Waste Makers Index report is available to read on the Minderoo website.

Newsweek has contacted the institutions, organizations and governments mentioned above.

Plastic waste on a beach in Panama
Garbage, including plastic waste, is seen at the beach of Costa del Este, in Panama City, on April 19, 2021. 90 per cent of the world’s plastic waste is produced by just 100 companies, a report has found.
Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

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