While some forms of plastic break down in 20 years, others take as long as 500. Millions of tons of plastic make their way into oceans each year. This has become one of the greatest environmental disasters in history, and it is unlikely to end anytime soon. Plastic is used in numerous items used by consumers and companies.
Efforts to reverse the situation amount to a drop in the ocean. Plastic recycling programs are better than nothing, but they’re hardly a panacea. A 2019 peer-reviewed study in the journal Science Advances concluded that only 9% of plastic gets recycled and that most of the rest ends up in the oceans. Worse still, production of single-use plastics is predicted by some sources to increase by 30% over the next five years.
Producers of consumer products are the main culprits of single-use plastic waste. Break Free From Plastic, a global network of environmentalists that audits discarded plastic waste, names Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé as the top global polluters of plastic waste. But companies like this don’t actually produce the raw materials that become your shampoo bottle, single-serving water or takeaway food container and utensils. The raw materials for these and other disposable consumer plastics are pellet-sized polymers produced by the global petroleum industry.
To identify the company generating the most waste from single-use plastic manufacturing, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data in “The Plastic Waste Makers Index,” published this year by the Minderoo Foundation, an Australia-based philanthropy. Companies are ranked on the plastic waste generated in 2019, measured in millions of tons (converted from the metric tons used in the report). Annual revenue and profit figures, for the most recent available year, came from the Forbes Global 2000, a list of the world’s largest 2,000 public companies in the world, as well as from publicly available financial documents. (Profit and revenue figures reported in a foreign currency were converted to U.S. dollars.)
The company that produces the most plastic is Exxon Mobil. Here are the details:
- Single-use plastic waste generated in 2019: 6.5 million tons
- Country: United States
- Annual revenue: $178.2 billion
- Annual profit: −$22.4 billion