Companies’ promises to recycle do not lead to less plastic use: study


Companies’ pledges to tackle plastic pollution are failing to sufficiently reduce the use of the material, according to a new study.

As public expectations of corporate responsibility rise, more large companies are pledging to reduce plastic use, according to the studypublished Friday in One Earth.

But these companies — among the largest and most powerful in the world — are focused on recycling rather than reducing the use of virgin plastics, the authors found.

These circumstances, in turn, made corporate commitments less meaningful, according to the researchers.

“Most pledges focus on plastic recycling and typically target general plastics,” wrote the authors, led by Zoie Taylor Diana, an environmental researcher at Duke University Marine Laboratory.

“These are important, but partial, solutions if we are to comprehensively solve the problem of plastic pollution,” they added.

Diana and her colleagues focused on the top 300 Fortune 500 companies, finding that 72% had pledged to reduce plastic pollution in public reporting.

But these companies have largely worked on changing their consumption and production patterns, usually by including more recycled content in their products, according to the study.

“There is a strong focus on recycling and less attention is given to closing the ‘plastic tap’ as a source,” the authors wrote.

Another common practice among large companies is to “lighten” — or slightly reduce the volume of plastic used to package a product, the authors explained.

“We found that several companies, such as The Coca-Cola Company and Walmart, are producing lighter and smaller plastic products,” the authors wrote, referring to items such as bottles and bags.

When companies commit to lightweighting, they typically reinvest their savings in markets that include new plastic products, the researchers found.

Because the number of plastic products is so increasing every year, the relief does not translate into a net reduction in plastic, according to the study.

From 1950 to 2017, plastic production increased 174 times and is expected to double again by 2040, the authors noted.

In 2015, about 79% of global plastic waste ended up in landfills or the natural environment, while 12% was incinerated and 9% was recycled, according to the study.

“Plastics in the environment negatively impact all levels of biological organization,” the authors added.

The Hill contacted the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council, which represents major US plastic manufacturers, for comment.


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