These 7 global plastics pointers are useful in understanding our global plastics problem. Who makes it, pays for it, bank rolls it, wastes it and pollutes with it. The most striking thing about the list is the concentration of each factor within a few hands and in concert, where the fix focus can easily be placed.
It might surprise you to know that nearly 81% of all ocean plastic waste comes from Asia. Before you start hoiking your garbage swear words towards the region, there is a very good reason. According to Our World in Data, Asia is the world’s most populous region (home to 60% of the world population); plus all of the top ten plastic pollution emitting rivers (Philippines, India, and Malaysia). Africa was responsible for 8%; South America for 5.5%; North America for 4.5%; and Europe and Oceania combined were less than 1%.
Of the Asian countries, the Philippines accounts for more than one-third (36%) of plastic inputs. This is because the Philippines consists of many small islands where the majority of the population lives near the coast and they are home to seven of the top ten ocean polluting rivers. Many people think China and India dominate, but India accounts for 13%, and China for 7%.
The most useful thing we can do to reduce ocean plastics is for rich countries to support low-to-middle income countries in improving waste management infrastructure and stopping plastics getting to the ocean in the first place. Given that we are now able to specifically pinpoint where ocean plastic trash comes from, the opportunity to target hotspots is much easier.
If you want to totally geek out, Ocean Clean Up have published an amazing interactive map of the world's river plastic emissions location points.
A handful of companies make “virgin” polymers from oil, gas and coal feedstocks. Minderoo's Plastic Waste Maker's Index reports that of approximately 300 polymer producers operating globally, a small fraction hold the fate of the world’s plastics crisis in their hands. Their choice to continue to produce virgin polymers, rather than recycled polymers, has massive repercussions on how much waste is collected, is managed and leaks into the environment.
In 2019, just 20 polymer producers accounted for more than half of all single-use plastic waste generated globally – and the top 100 accounted for 90 per cent. ExxonMobil and Dow – both based in the USA – top the list, followed by China-based Sinopec, with these three companies together accounting for 16 percent of global single-use plastic waste.
Minderoo also report that 20 institutional 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 these polymer producers, of which an estimated US$10 billion comes from the production of virgin polymers for single-use plastics. (Given Blackrock's open climate stance on fossil fuels, this is disappointing.)
An estimated 30 per cent of the sector, by value, is state-owned, with Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Arab Emirates the top three.
Twenty of the world’s largest banks, including Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America, are estimated to have lent almost US$30 billion for the production of these polymers since 2011. Plastic production is funded by leading banks: Barclays ($3,1b), HSBC ($3.1b), Bank of America ($2,9b), Citigroup ($2,8b) and JPMorgan Chase ($2,7b).
The top countries are of course where the factories are: China and the USA, followed by India and Japan.
Minderoo found that the highest rate of single-use plastic waste on average was in Australia followed by the USA with more than 50kg per year. Ironically, China, the largest producer of single-use plastic by volume produces only 18 kg of single-use plastic waste per year and India only 4 kg.
Image: Unsplash - Merakist / Charts: Our World in Data / Minderoo Foundation - KPMG (With the exception of World in Data info on ocean plastics, all other data and information is from the Minderoo Plastic Waste Makers Index.