Plastic bottles collected for recycling in Thailand.

Plastic bottles collected for recycling in Krabi, Thailand. Photo: Alexander Spatari /Getty Images .

“This is the first time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source.”

— Toby Gardner, Director of Trase and Senior Research Fellow at SEI, who advised in parts of the analysis.

Single-use plastics – the cheap plastic goods we use once and then throw away – epitomize the plastics crisis. Today, single-use plastics account for over a third of plastics produced every year, with 98% manufactured from fossil fuels.

“The plastification of our oceans and the warming of our planet are amongst the greatest threats humanity and nature have ever confronted. Global efforts will not be enough to reverse this crisis unless government, business and financial leaders act in our children’s and grandchildren’s interests.”

— Dr Andrew Forrest AO, Chairman and Co-Founder, Minderoo Foundation.

“Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it. The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined.”

— Al Gore, former US Vice President.

The Plastic Waste Makers Index

Published by the Minderoo Foundation, the Plastic Waste Makers Index  has been developed with partners including Wood Mackenzie, and experts from the London School of Economics and the Stockholm Environment Institute, among others. SEI Senior Research Fellow Toby Gardner advised on the work, and the Trase initiative contributed to the development of datasets and methods used in the report .

Key messages from the analysis include:

  • Twenty companies are the source of more than half of all single-use plastic thrown away globally. ExxonMobil tops the list – contributing 5.9 million tonnes to global plastic waste – closely followed by US chemicals company Dow and China’s Sinopec. One hundred companies are behind 90 per cent of global single-use plastic production.
  • Close to 60 per cent of the commercial finance funding of single-use production comes from just 20 global banks. A total of US$30 billion of loans from these institutions – which include Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America – has gone to the sector since 2011.
  • Twenty asset managers – led by US companies Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group – hold over US$300 billion worth of shares in the parent companies of single-use plastic polymer producers. Of this, US$10 billion is directly linked to single-use polymer production.

“Change must be possible”

Toby Gardner responded to the question “Is change possible?” in an interview with TRT World:

“Change must be possible – there are few issues that attract so much attention as plastic pollution. The fact that we all have tiny plastic particles in our bodies should give us all sufficient pause for thought. We need to reduce the use of single-use plastics, but where they are necessary it is vital that we drive a transition towards a circular economy based on recycled materials and not virgin polymers from fossil fuels. Consumer pressure is key, but the real action needs to come from companies, investors and governments.”

“Revealing the sheer scale of the global crisis we have on our hands, it’s critical we break the pattern of inaction. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Building on this unique analysis just published, it is very important that the small group of companies and banks that dominate global production of throwaway plastics begin to disclose their own data,” Gardner concluded.