Single-use plastics, such as bottles, bags and food packages, are the most commonly discarded type of plastic.
Made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, these “throwaway” plastics often end their short lifecycle polluting the oceans, being burned or dumped into landfills.
The report warns that plastic production is set to grow by 30% in the next five years, creating even more plastic waste and exacerbating the climate emergency.
LONDON — Just 20 companies are the source of more than half of single-use plastic items thrown away globally, according to a study that highlights the devastating impact on the environment.
The Plastic Waste Makers Index, published Tuesday, names the companies that are at the forefront of the plastic supply chain and manufacture polymers, known as the building block of plastics. It also highlighted that the firms identified are supported by a small number of financial backers.
Single-use plastics, such as bottles, bags and food packages, are the most commonly discarded type of plastic. Made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, these “throwaway” plastics often end their short lifecycle polluting the oceans, being burned or dumped into landfills.
The study says 20 petrochemical companies are responsible for 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste.
The findings were published by the Minderoo Foundation, one of Asia’s largest philanthropies. The research was conducted by academics from the London School of Economics, the Stockholm Environment Institute, Wood Mackenzie, among others.
U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil tops the list, contributing 5.9 million metric tons to global plastic waste, closely followed by U.S. chemicals company Dow and China’s Sinopec. The study says 100 companies are the source of 90% of global single-use plastic production.
Nearly 60% of the commercial finance funding the plastic waste crisis comes from just 20 global banks, the study said. A total of $30 billion of loans from these institutions, including Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America, has supported the sector since 2011.
The research also assessed the countries that are the biggest contributors to the single-use plastic crisis, based on per head of population. Australia and the U.S., respectively, were found to produce the greatest amounts of “throwaway” plastics, at more than 50 kg per person per year in 2019.
South Korea and the U.K. were found to generate 44 kg of single-use plastic waste per person.
By contrast, the average person in China — the largest producer of single-use plastic by volume — produces 18 kg of single-use plastic per year. For India, that figure is as low as 4 kg per year, the study said.
“As awareness of the toll of plastic pollution has grown, the petrochemical industry has told us it’s our own fault and has directed attention toward behavior change from end-users of these products, rather than addressing the problem at its source,” he added.
Environmental activists have previously laid the blame for plastic waste at companies such as PespiCo and Coca-Cola. However, this study suggests that a group of petrochemical companies are actually the source of the crisis — one that has devastating ecological, social and environmental consequences.