Here Is Who’s Behind the Global Surge in Single-Use Plastic
The throwaway plastic that holds our takeout food and wraps our dry cleaning is widely seen as one of the world’s biggest environmental hazards. It pollutes as it is produced, through the extraction of fossil fuels, and, no sooner than it is used, it pollutes again. It is thrown away and can end up clogging waterways and choking animals or sometimes is burned, sending hazardous fumes into the air.
A detailed report published Tuesday sheds new light on who makes all this single-use plastic, 130 million tons a year at last count, and who makes money from it. A surprisingly small group of giant manufacturers and investors are at the heart of the global industry.
The report comes from researchers led by Minderoo, a nonprofit organization based in Australia that advocates for cleaner oceans, along with academics at the University of Oxford and the Stockholm Environment Institute. It was reviewed by KPMG, the accounting firm.
Here are four takeaways:
So who makes all this plastic?
For years, environmentalists have pressured consumers to reduce their plastic use and shamed consumer companies to use less plastic in their packaging.
But this report peels back another layer by showing who produces polymers, the petrochemicals that are the building blocks of single-use plastic.
According to the report, half of the world’s single-use plastic is made by 20 big companies. Two U.S. companies, Exxon Mobil and Dow, lead the pack, followed by Sinopec, a Chinese-owned petrochemicals giant, and Indorama Ventures, which is based in Bangkok.
Single-use plastic has been a very good business, and that’s projected to continue. In the next five years alone, production capacity is forecast to grow by 30 percent.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, called the report “misleading,” saying it failed to acknowledge industry research showing that replacing plastic packaging with other materials could increase greenhouse gas emissions. The group also noted that the Minderoo Foundation is funded by its founder’s stake in a company that mines iron ore. The mining industry is often criticized for its environmental toll.