Companies commit US$1 billion to fight plastic pollution

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An alliance of nearly 30 major industrial and consumer goods companies have announced a US$1 billion initiative to tackle plastic waste.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which includes chemical companies, including BASF, Dow and Mitsui Chemicals, Oil majors, including ExxonMobil, Total and Shell, and was convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, will fund initiatives in waste management and recycling infrastructure worldwide, and will back innovative technologies that could offer solutions to the large and growing issue of plastic pollution.

“I think everyone agrees that plastic waste does not belong in the ocean or the environment. This demands swift action and leadership from all of us,” David Taylor, president and CEO of Proctor & Gamble, who chairs the AEPW, said at the initiative’s launch in London.

Last year, researchers at the University of California in Santa Barbara found that of the more than 8 billion tonnes of plastic that has been produced since large-scale production began in the 1950s, less than 10 per cent has been recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills or dumped into oceans and other ecosystems.

The impact on those ecosystems has been severe. A 2016 report from the World Economic Forum estimated that at current rates, the total weight of marine plastic will be greater than that of the fish in the oceans. Microplastics—invisible fragments of plastic waste—have been detected in many marine species, and are now in the human food chain.

The AEPW announced that it would invest in an incubator network, run by Circulate Capital, which will help to develop innovative technologies and business models to prevent plastic waste, and would support Renew Oceans, an India-based organisation that aims to divert plastic waste from rivers.

As 60 per cent of ocean plastics come from just five countries in Asia, much of the alliance’s work will focus on the region.

The alliance’s members said that they hope to make an economic case, as well as an environmental one.“Most people don’t know that plastic waste has value. The key is unlocking that value and bringing it back to a useful form again,” said Bob Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell, one of the world’s largest plastic producers and the vice-chairman of the initiative, speaking at the AEPW’s launch.

“By tackling plastic waste we can also impact communities in a very positive way, and people’s lives in a positive way. It can be a means of commerce in different parts of the world. But what it will take is collaboration, not only within the value chain… but also governments and other stakeholder groups.”

The initiative’s launch attracted criticism from some NGOs, including the Netherlands-based Recycling Netwerk, which noted that several of the AEPW’s members are still investing billions of dollars in building substantial new plastic production facilities, and accused the participants of “greenwashing.”

“Without tackling the production of plastic at its source, all clean-up efforts will be in vain,” Rob Buurman, Recycling Netwerk’s director, said.

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