Single-use plastic may one day be viewed much like cigarettes are today: something once considered a relatively harmless habit that evolves culturally into a reviled threat to public health despite decades of effort by manufacturers and their political allies to downplay its harm.
Until the time comes when enough people recognize the environmental damages caused by their unabashed embrace of single-use disposable plastics, landfills and natural habitats will continue to be inundated with this petroleum-based byproduct of modern consumer convenience. (You might be surprised by the size of household waste in 50 countries around the world.)
Plastic recycling programs are better than nothing, but they’re hardly panaceas. 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. (Here are 30 easy ways to be more environmentally friendly.)
To identify the companies 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.)