Warning, sarcasm ahead…
Good news! Some of the biggest companies in the world including producers and users of plastic launched an initiative with the ambitious goal to end plastic waste. They call themselves… the alliance to end plastic waste! These 28 companies include plastic producers Shell, Chevron, and other fossil fuel companies, and plastic packaging giants like P&G (the maker of Mr Clean, Tide, and Crest, among others) and Henkel (the makers of Persil, Purex, Gliss, among others). They pledged $1 billion US dollars over 5 years, rising to $1.5 billion if they get more members to join. These guys are major heavyweights in the plastics business, so when they come together like this that should be about it for the world’s plastic pollution problem, right?
Wrong. This may sound like a big deal, and a lot of money, but the plastic industry is valued at over $1 trillion US dollars per year. So the promised $1 billion over 5 years is less than 0.1% of their market value. And their effort is really about waste management, clean up and recycling. Noticeably absent? The crazy idea that we need to produce less plastic!
Yep. Their grand vision is to “promote infrastructure, education and engagement, innovation, and clean up efforts to keep plastic waste in the right place.” They also plan to “collect and manage waste and increase recycling, especially in developing countries.”
Translation? They’re going to teach us to be better at cleaning up their mess.
Blaming consumers and developing countries
These multi-billion dollar companies are investing to solve a massive global problem that has been building up for decades – and which they profit from.
Their aim is to make more plastic, sell more plastic, and blame others for the pollution they cause. One of the alliance’s aims is to improve waste management systems in Asia that are unable to deal with the enormous amounts of plastics these companies are placing on their markets. They’re doing this so that developed countries like Canada can continue shipping vast amounts of low-value, and largely not recycled plastics off our own doorstep – which then end up in the environment somewhere else.
If they were serious about reducing plastic waste, one would guess that they are at least pledging to reduce the amount of plastic they’re putting out?
Guess again. In their own words, “even as we work aggressively to reduce plastic waste in the environment, we must maintain the critical benefits that plastics bring to people and communities around the world.” Without reductions, and the phase-out of non-recyclable plastics, this pledge is little more than corporate greenwashing.
What do we need? More plastic!
While making headlines with an unlikely initiative to end plastic pollution with inadequate resources, these same companies are plotting an even bigger invasion of the world with plastics.
Exxon Mobile is planning on doubling its production of Polystyrene (PE, the most common plastic used to make things like plastic bags, films, containers and other things we don’t need) in its plastics plant in Mont Belvieu, Texas. NOVA Chemicals, a plastics and chemical company headquartered in Calgary, is investing $2 billion building a new polyethylene plant in St. Clair Township, next to Sarnia. The plant will also receive a $100-million funding from Ontario tax payers as well as $35 million of Federal subsidies.
About 40% of the plastic production demand is for packaging, and therefore single use plastics – and industry is banking on the continued growth in demand. This kind of voluntary agreement is only paying lip service to the plastic pollution problem, and will not prevent plastics entering the environment and contaminating our bodies. What we need is for governments to take action. Only strong laws limiting the use of the worst types of plastics and ending single use plastics will make a dent in this plastic mountain.
The founding members of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste include: NOVA Chemicals, BASF, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow Chemical, DSM, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corporation, Henkel, LyondellBasell, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, OxyChem, PolyOne, Procter & Gamble, Reliance Industries, SABIC, Sasol, SUEZ, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total, Veolia, and Versalis.