Just 20 companies are the source of over half of all of the single-use plastic items that are thrown away globally
That’s the conclusion of a set of analysis of the corporate network that is behind the world’s single-use plastic production.
The study had looked at approximately 1,000 factories that make the raw materials that are needed for single-use products.
Plastic bottles, bags and food packages are among the billions of items that are used once and then thrown away, often ending up in the planet’s oceans.
The research, carried out by a consortium including the London School of Economics, looked at which companies are at the base of the plastic supply chain and make polymers, the building blocks of all plastics.
It names 20 petrochemical companies which it says are the source of 55 per cent of the world’s single-use plastic waste. The companies include ExxonMobil, Dow and Sinopec.
This comes after environmental conservationists have expressed their “anger” after a beached whale has been found with 16kg of plastic waste inside its stomach. The cetacean, which was a female Cuvier’s beaked whale measuring just over 5 meters in length, washed up on a beach in Messanges within south-west France.
The study also assesses which countries generate most single-use plastic waste, based on per head of population.
The UK comes in fourth, with more than 40kg of plastic waste generated per person per year, the authors state, while Australia is top and the United States second.
Part of the increase in demand for plastic stems from the need for masks and other protective and medical equipment to deal with the Covid crisis.
Previous research has focused on the impact of plastic waste on the natural world, or on the consumer companies making and selling consumer products packaged in plastic.
By contrast, this analysis tracks the flow of plastic through the supply chain, starting with the manufacturers of the basic ingredients that go into making single use items.
Those ingredients, known as polymers, are mostly produced by processing fossil fuels including oil, gas and coal.
As well as LSE, the study was carried out by market researchers Wood Mackenzie and the Stockholm Environment Institute. The findings have been published by the Minderoo Foundation.
US-based ExxonMobil is the biggest producer of single-use plastic, the report says, followed by: Dow, Sinopec, Indorama Ventures, Saudi Aramco, PetroChina, LyondellBasell, Reliance Industries, Braskem, Alpek SA de CV, Borealis, Lotte Chemical, INEOS, Total, Jiangsu Hailun Petrochemical, Far Eastern New Century, Formosa Plastics Corporation, China Energy Investment Group, PTT and China Resources.
According to the foundation’s director of finance and transparency, Dominic Charles, the research highlights “how the future of the plastic waste crisis is in the hands of just 20 companies”.
This comes after microbiologists have devised a new sustainable way of removing polluting microplastics from the environment, and they want to use bacteria to achieve this feat.
He says: “It’s an extraordinary point of leverage for regulators, for finance institutions, to influence them in order that rather than producing from fossil fuels, they produce plastic that’s recycled.”
He adds that until now the emphasis of efforts to curb plastic pollution has been on the individual choices that consumers can make.
“But we need to go after the tap, to turn off the tap of fossil fuel plastics and we need to create plastics from recycled material.”
The report finds that plastic production is set to expand by 30% in the next five years, increasing carbon emissions as well as creating more plastic waste.