Beverage bottles, food packages, and shopping bags are among the most common plastics that wind up in garbage bins — and eventually the oceans — after only one use. While the world has long been aware of disposable plastic’s role in environmental pollution, consumers’ appetite for the convenience of use-and-toss plastic is expected to help fuel a 30% increase in plastic production over the next five years, according to coordinated research by a group of academics from the London School of Economics, the Stockholm Environmental Institute and other institutions. (You may be astonished by the size of household waste in 50 countries around the world.)
Proponents of plastics can rightly point to the many plastic products that have become positive contributors to modern life. They’ve made medical devices safer and cheaper to produce, for example. A modern vehicle is lighter and more fuel efficient because plastics have replaced heavier metal components. And you’re likely very close to plastics right now, whether they’re in the mobile device you’re holding or the refrigerator in your kitchen.
But when it comes to single-use disposable plastics, most of which aren’t recycled, the arguments in favor of their benefits are weak compared to the defense of plastics in other applications. It’s impossible to argue any real benefit to a plastic bottle containing eight ounces of commercialized water — unless you are invested in the production, marketing, and distribution of these bottles.
Plastics is a massive global industry, and when investors and analysts see predictions of 30% growth in plastics production in the near future, they see dollar signs. Money made from plastics is everywhere, from the oil and gas companies that provide the raw materials, to the extruders that mold these polymers into bags, boxes, and bottles, to the companies big and small that use the packaging to sell their wares and make them more convenient to carefree consumers.
To identify not the producers of the most single-use plastic products but the individuals, corporations, and national governments most invested in the production of the plastics from which these products are made, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data in “The Plastic Waste Makers Index,” published this year by the Minderoo Foundation, an Australia-based philanthropy. From the same source comes information for this list of the companies that actually produce the most plastic waste around the world.