Environmental NGO Recycling Netwerk Benelux reacts on the billion-dollar initiative of the world’s biggest plastic manufacturers.

Information on the “Alliance to End Plastic Wasteleaked in the German newspaper Handelsblatt. Procter & Gamble, BASF, DSM, Dow, Suez and the chemical divisions of Total, Shell and ExxonMobil are part of the initiative that claims to invest more than 1 billion dollar to fight plastic waste.

“It is interesting to see they 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 almost 400 million tonnes plastic each year, with 60 million metric tonnes produced in Europe alone.”

Solving the plastic waste problem should start by preventing more production of it

But this week Ineos announced to invest 3 billion euro in the construction of a new plastic plant in the harbor of Antwerp. In a time when the EU is trying to fight plastic pollution and has recently adopted a new directive on single-use plastics, Ineos wants to make one of the largest plastic production investments in Europe in history. Ineos has been heavily criticized as it relies on fracking to extract shale gas for the production of ethylene gas. The extraction and use of shale gas is particularly controversial as it leads to high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and comes at a heavy cost for local ecosystems.

For years, the story of big industry has been about blaming the consumer for pollution and making big promises on recycling. Chemical industry and food and drinks industry share this narrative and have successfully convinced many policy makers to stay away from effective legislation to curb plastic pollution at the source.

Steady stream of plastics

Right now, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced in the world, leading to almost 6 billion tonnes of plastic waste. Only around 9% of it has been recycled. The rest has been burned and contributes to climate change or is still polluting the environment.

Most plastics are used for the production of packagings which are often used only once. Cleanups of streets, rivers and seas will not work as long as there is a steady stream of new plastics being produced and collected in a half-hearted way.

“This kind of actions want to cure the image of plastic. But plastics don’t have an ‘image problem’ – the exaggerated use of it in products with a short lifespan is a problem in itself”, Recycling Netwerk director Rob Buurman states. Therefore the question is how these companies will spend the money in the Alliance to End Plastic Waste fund and if there will be external supervising. There is a real risk that this is the start of a big greenwashing campaign for plastics.


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