Just 20 Companies Produce 55% of the Globe’s Plastic Waste

A new report has emerged claiming that just 20 companies are responsible for producing 55% of the globe’s plastic waste, while identifying the biggest polluters on a per-capita basis. 

Among the 20 companies producing 55% of the globe’s plastic waste are oil and natural gas producers, as well as state-owned and private multinational energy companies. 

To make things worse, as governments impose strict emissions laws for the transport sector, a number of oil producers are turning to the production of plastic to shore-up their profits.

It’s estimated that by 2050, the production of plastic will amount to around 10% of the globe’s overall carbon dioxide emissions. 

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Also headlining the report’s findings is the fact that Australia, on a per capita basis is the single-worst polluting country in the world, followed by the US and South Korea. 

The numbers come from the latest Plastic Waste Makers index published by Minderoo, who looked at who was producing the most polymers that eventually became single-use plastic items, as well as manufacturers of plastic bags and bottles that make their way into landfills and oceans after a short period of use.

The research was conducted alongside the London School of Economics, the Stockholm Environment Institute and Wood Mackenzie. 

In terms of a breakdown of the world’s worst plastic polluters, Australia was ranked as the worst on a per-capita basis, with an estimated 59kg of single-use plastic waste produced per person each year. The United States came in second-place with 53kg of waste, while South Korea (44kg), Japan (37kg) and France (36kg) rounded out the top five. 

The researchers also broke down the concentration of plastic waste in terms of where, and by whom, it was produced. The results show that just 20 companies produce around 55% of the globe’s plastic waste, largely fossil fuel companies that produce the raw materials for use in bottles, packaging and other single-use plastic items. 

ExxonMobil was found to be the worst single contributor to plastic waste, said to have produced more than 5.9 million tonnes of plastic, with the largest chemical company in the world, Dow, producing 5.5 million tonnes to come in second place. 

China’s state-owned oil and gas giant Sinopec came in at third place, producing around 5.3 million tonnes of plastic waste. 

  • ExxonMobil: 5.9 million tonnes
  • Dow: 5.6 million tonnes
  • Sinopec: 5.3 million tonnes
  • Indorama Ventures: 4.6 million tonnes
  • Saudi Aramco: 4.3 million tonnes
  • PetroChina: 4 million tonnes
  • LyondellBasell: 3.9 million tonnes
  • Reliance Industries: 3.1 million tonnes
  • Braskem: 3 million tonnes
  • Alpek SA de CV: 2.3 million tonnes

Just 20 Companies Produce 55% of the Globe’s Plastic Waste

On a geographical breakdown, the majority – eleven – of the companies are based in Asia, four are based in European countries, three in North America, one in the Middle East and one in Latin America. 

The report points out that these operations are funded by some of the world’s most prominent financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC and Barclays. 

Barclays accounted for the largest amount of loans handed to petroleum-based plastic polymer production, with around $3.1 billion lent out, followed by HSBC with $3.1 billion and Bank of America with $2.9 billion. 

Authors of the report noted that “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.” 

They are calling for increased regulation in the plastics recycling industry that would ultimately utilise more recycled polymers as raw materials for the production of more plastic items. 

“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,” they wrote. 

Authors of the report estimate that just 2% of single-use plastic items that were produced in 2019 were sourced from recycled polymers. 

“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.’ 

Former US vice-president, Al Gore has said that as the transport sector becomes increasingly more decarbonised, fossil fuel companies are turning to the production of plastics to underpin their bottom line. 

“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,” Gore said. 

“Moreover, the plastic waste that results – particularly from single-use plastics – is piling up in landfills, along roadsides, and in rivers that carry vast amounts into the ocean.” 

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