Multinationals join forces against plastic waste

plastic waste

A group of 28 multinationals have agreed to work together to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment over the next five years. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste includes big names in the chemical industry such as Dow, LyondellBasell and Sabic, as well as oil giants with a chemical division such as Shell and Total. Consumer goods companies Nestlé and Procter & Gamble, as well as waste management companies Suez and Veolia, have also signed up to the initiative.

The multinationals have committed to invest over a billion dollars between them over the next five years. The money will be spent on things like collecting and managing waste, on cleaning up affected areas, on stimulating recycling-related innovation and on education. It is hoped that more companies will join the alliance so that the investment can be further raised to 1.5 billion dollars. The main focus of the alliance is on Southeast Asia, mainly because a lot of the plastic waste there ends up in rivers and ultimately the ocean.

Criticism from Greenpeace

In Dutch newspaper NRC, Peter Bakker, CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and former CEO of TNT, is quoted as describing the multinationals’ initiative to reduce plastic waste in the environment as “unique in size and scope”. However, Greenpeace is critical of the move. “Companies like these can make a big contribution to solving the problem of plastic waste, but I think they are going about it in the wrong way. Government and industry are primarily focusing on end-of-pipe solutions, yet they are continuing to produce plastic,” said Campaign Manager for Plastic Meike Rijksen in NRC.

Bakker, who on behalf of WBCSD is one of the initiators of the alliance and also fulfils a supervisory role, pointed out that these companies are the ones that “stand to win or lose the most” in the plastic waste challenge. In his opinion, rather than being an alliance against plastic itself, it is an alliance against plastic’s devastating environmental impact.

Bakker countered criticism that the sum the multinationals have pledged to invest amounts to just a fraction of their multibillion-dollar total revenue (based on an average of 7 million dollars per company per year) by saying: “You could also see it differently. As far as I’m aware, no other initiative comes close to this kind of figure.”

Similar partnership

Incidentally, in October 2018, over 250 large companies signed up to a partnership similar to the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Together with the British Ellen MacArthur Foundation, they pledged to eliminate plastic waste and pollution at source. Food industry giants such as Coca-Cola and Unilever indicated they would set targets for topics such as recycling and the reduction of packaging.