One of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution is the plastic industry. Many plastic products are single-use, meaning they are thrown out consistently. This means that plastic waste is produced just as quickly as the plastic product is made. And where does all this plastic waste go? It goes into the oceans or is either burned and dumped into landfills. However, plastic can last up to 20 to 500 years depending on what kind it is.
The other option is to burn it but then it can release harmful dioxins into the environment and given just how much plastic waste is produced daily, it could have the opposite effect. Many companies and countries have been switching to alternatives for a while now but the single-use plastic industry is still strong. Recent reports show that twenty companies alone are responsible for producing more than half of the world’s single-use plastic waste. These companies include both state-owned and multinational corporations, including oil and gas giants and chemical companies.
The data comes from the Plastic Waste Makers Index by the Minderoo Foundation. It shows companies that produce polymers that mostly become throwaway plastic waste like face masks, plastic bags, bottles, and jugs, which after their use end up polluting oceans or the air after burning in a landfill.
According to the data, ExxonMobil is the greatest single-use plastic waste polluter in the world. It has contributed about 5.9m tonnes to global waste. That’s enough to create a small mountain. On the second number is Dow which is the largest chemicals company in the world, based in the US. Dow created 5.5m tonnes of plastic waste, while China’s oil and gas enterprise, Sinopec, created 5.3m tonnes
All these companies are funded by major banks all over the world. According to the reports by the Minderoo Foundation, “Twenty of the world’s largest banks, including Barclays, HSBC, and Bank of America, have lent an estimated US$30 billion for the production of single-use plastic polymers since 2011”. Other banks include Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, and the SMBC group.
The top twenty companies are based all over the world. 11 of the companies are in Asia, 4 in Europe, 3 in North America, 1 in Latin America, and 1 in the Middle East. All these companies produce single-use plastics that are mostly made from fossil fuels so the byproducts of the process further push the climate situation towards the edge.
According to Al Gore, environmentalist and former US vice-president, “Since most plastic is made from oil and gas – especially fracked gas – the production and consumption of plastic are becoming a significant driver of the climate crisis”.
Reports and analysis such as the one done by Minderoo Foundation really bring awareness to the issues the plastic industry is causing to the environment. One can only hope that governments change their policies towards these industries to help the environment.