Plastic promises from top companies don’t mean much

Although 72% of the top 300 companies on the Fortune Global 500 list have made some form of voluntary commitment to reduce plastic pollution, few have prioritized reducing their use of virgin plastic, the research found.

That virgin plastic is the real root of the problem, according to Zoie Diana, a graduate student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The earth is inundated with plastic. It pollutes our landscapes and waters, floods landfills and increasingly threatens human and environmental health worldwide. And because most plastic is made from fossil fuels, it also contributes to climate change.

“We found that companies are overwhelmingly focusing on downstream strategies to reduce waste, rather than shutting off the plastic tap at the source, such as a practice known as lightweighting,” says Diana, who led the research.

Those sound like good approaches, and they are up to a point, she says. “But if a company reinvests its savings from weight reduction into new products that also use plastic, or if it ends up making more bags, bottles and containers overall – even if they’re individually lighter and less plastic-intensive, it won’t result in a net reduction.” of plastic pollution.”

The researchers report on their results in the journal one earth. As part of their analysis, they reviewed the annual reports of nearly 1,000 of the world’s largest and most powerful companies.

Between 1950 and 2017, global plastics production increased 174-fold and is projected to double again by 2040, she notes. About 79% of the plastic waste from this production ends up in landfills or in the environment. Only 9% is ever recycled and only a tenth of that amount has been recycled more than once in the last 50 years.

“Very little of the plastic that we put in the recycling bin is actually reused,” says Diana. “Recycling only delays the disposal and pollution of plastic. Any comprehensive solution must target the production and use of virgin plastic.”

The vague wording used to describe some of the pollution reduction commitments was also a red flag.

“Three-quarters of the world’s 300 largest companies have made at least one commitment that was neither time-bound nor measurable,” says Diana. “There were no deadlines, no deadlines, no quantifiable ways of assessing whether progress was being made.”

The connection between plastic production and climate change was also hardly recognized.

“The majority of companies have not made a link between reducing their carbon footprint and reducing their plastic footprint in publicly available reports, particularly in terms of reducing production and use of virgin plastic,” says Diana.

The United Nations Environment Assembly is working to pass an international plastics treaty in 2024, which Diana hopes will target virgin plastic. She believes there is also a need for ongoing scientific research into the plastic footprints of large companies.

“Scientists play an important role in monitoring and defining environmental issues, which can help hold companies accountable,” she says.

Co-authors are from Duke and the Stockholm Resilience Center. Funding came from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Oak Foundation, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Duke University

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