The founding companies behind a self-styled alliance to end plastic waste are among the world’s biggest investors in new plastic productions plants, according to a European NGO. A majority of the firms which announced this week they were collaborating to try to help tackle plastic pollution are likely to be at the heart of a global boom in plastic production over the next 10 years.
Together the companies have committed $1bn (£778m) over the next five years to reduce plastic production and improve recycling, with an aspiration to raise that to $1.5bn if more members join. But most of the founding firms have tens of billions of dollars riding on the need for global plastic production to continue growing over the next decade and more.
Shell, one of the signatories, is building a multibillion-dollar plant in Pennsylvania in the eastern US, using shale gas as its fuel to produce 1.6m tonnes of polyethylene – the world’s most common plastic – each year.
ExxonMobil, another leading figure in the alliance, is building a new polyethylene production line at its plant in Mont Belvieu, Texas, to increase plastic production to more than 2.5m tonnes a year. When completed it will be one of the largest plastic production units in the world.
Saudi Arabia’s state oil company Saudi Aramco and the country’s chemical giant SABIC are building one of the world’s largest oil-to-petrochemicals factories as they – like other fossil fuel companies – move away from reliance on crude oil revenues.
Many of the production plants are linked to fracking. Fossil fuel companies have invested more than $180bn since 2010 in new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics for use in packaging, bottles, trays and cartons, helping to fuel a 40% rise in plastic productionover the next decade.
Rob Buurman, the director of environmental NGO Recycling Netwerk, said: “It is interesting to see [the plastics industry] finally acknowledge that there is a problem with their plastics. “But unfortunately, this initiative does not tackle the problem at its source: the gigantic production of 400m tonnes of plastic each year, with 60m metric tonnes produced in Europe alone.”