More than two dozen companies — including several in the plastics industry — believe there is a way to end plastic waste and are pledging some serious money to launch the effort.
The new Alliance to End Plastic Waste already has a $1bn (€870m) commitment from alliance members and wants to up that total to $1.5bn (€1.3bn) to work on the problem during the next five years.
Alliance founders include companies along the so-called plastics value chain.
Pollution has always been a vexing problem for the plastics industry, and the recent focus on plastic ocean waste has put a white-hot light on the issue.
A common response, in the past, has been that the matter is a solid waste management issue and not a plastics industry issue.
But the new alliance seeks to inject itself into the waste management portion of the problem by helping design systems in “large urban areas where infrastructure is lacking, especially along rivers which transport vast amounts of unmanaged plastic waste from land to ocean,” the alliance said.
The most problematic rivers contributing to the ocean plastic problem are located in Asia.
The goal is to create repeatable programs and solutions that can be applied in multiple locations, especially in areas with “high plastic leakage,” the alliance said.
Founding members of the alliance include BASF, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow, DSM, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corp. USA, Henkel, LyondellBasell, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, Nova Chemicals, OxyChem, Procter & Gamble, Reliance Industries, Saudi Basic Industries Corp., Sasol, Suez, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total and Veolia.
“History has shown us that collective action and partnerships between industry, governments and NGOs can deliver innovative solutions to a global challenge like this,” said Bob Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell and a vice chairman of the AEPW, in a statement. “The issue of plastic waste is seen and felt all over the world. It must be addressed and we believe the time for action is now.”
Other aspects of the work include creation of an incubator by Circulate Capital to foster creation of technology, business models and entrepreneurs to tackle the issue.
The alliance also wants to create an “open source, science-based global information” system to support plastic waste management.
The new group also points to a need to collaborate with intergovernmental agencies, such as the United Nations, to develop training to help them identify solutions.
A group called Renew Oceans, which works to create local engagement and investment, also is being supported. Renew Oceans seeks to capture plastic waste before it enters the ocean from 10 rivers that have been identified as the biggest contributors to the problem.
Work in the months ahead will include infrastructure development for both waste management and increased recycling; work to “advance and scale new technologies that make recycling and recovering plastics easier and create value from all post-use plastics;” and engagement of education of governments, businesses and communities to spur action, the alliance said.
Organisers also will spend money on actual cleaning of “concentrated areas of plastic waste already in the environment,” the group said. That includes the rivers that allow once land-based plastics to find oceans after they are swept into the water.
Response from Greenpeace
Environmental group Greenpeace sees the new alliance as a way to keep the “status quo” and allow for the continued production of single-use plastics rather than prioritising reduction.
“The same companies that rely on cheap plastics to profit off of countries in the Global South are now looking to build up some infrastructure so they can claim they tried to tackle the plastics problem, while ensuring their profits keep rolling in,” said Graham Forbes, global plastic project leader for Greenpeace, said in a statement.
“The truth is we will never escape this plastic pollution crisis through better recycling and waste management efforts,” he said in the statement.