Just twenty companies are responsible for producing over half of all the single-use plastic waste in the world, fuelling the climate crisis and creating an environmental catastrophe. Eleven of the companies are based in Asia, four in Europe, three in North America, one in Latin America, and one in the Middle East.
“Plastic pollution is one of the greatest and most critical threats facing our planet,” said Dr Andrew Forrest AO, chairman of the Minderoo Foundation. “The current outlook is set to get worse and we simply cannot allow these producers of fossil fuel-derived plastics to continue as they have done without check. With our oceans choking and plastic impacting our health, we need to see firm intervention from producers, governments and the world of finance to break the cycle of inaction.”
ExxonMobil is the greatest single-use plastic waste polluter in the world, contributing 5.9m tonnes to the global waste mountain, concludes the analysis by partners including Wood Mackenzie, the London School of Economics and Stockholm Environment Institute. The largest chemicals company in the world, Dow, which is based in the US, created 5.5m tonnes of plastic waste, while China’s oil and gas enterprise, Sinopec, created 5.3m tonnes.
The enormous plastic waste footprint of the top 20 global companies amounts to more than half of the 130m metric tonnes of single-use plastic thrown away in 2019. Single-use plastics are made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, driving the climate crisis, and because they are some of the hardest items to recycle, they end up creating global waste mountains. Just 10%-15% of single-use plastic is recycled globally each year.
“An environmental catastrophe beckons: much of the resulting single-use plastic waste will end up as pollution in developing countries with poor waste management systems,” the report’s authors said. “The projected rate of growth in the supply of these virgin polymers … will likely keep new, circular models of production and reuse ‘out of the money’ without regulatory stimulus.”
The plastic waste crisis grows every year. In the next five years, global capacity to produce virgin polymers for single-use plastics could grow by more than 30%.
The report said the plastics industry across the world had been allowed to operate with minimal regulation and limited transparency for decades. “These companies are the source of the single-use plastic crisis: their production of new ‘virgin’ polymers from oil, gas and coal feedstocks perpetuates the take-make-waste dynamic of the plastics economy.”
The report said this undermines the shift to a circular economy, including the production of recycled polymers from plastic waste, reusing plastic and using substitute materials. Just 2% of single-use plastic was made from recycled polymers in 2019.