The total natural capital cost of plastic in the consumer goods industry is more than $75 billion per year, according to research released today by the Plastic Disclosure Project, the UN Environment Programme and natural capital analysts Trucost.
The cost comes from a range of environmental impacts including the harm done by plastic litter to wildlife in the ocean and the loss of resources when plastic waste is sent to landfill rather than being recycled.
The report, Valuing plastic: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry, is the first-ever assessment of the environmental costs of plastic in business. It says companies could become more sustainable by improving the way they measure, manage and report the amount of plastic they use in their business operations and supply chains.
The report calculates the amount of plastic used by stock exchange listed companies in 16 consumer goods sectors and assesses levels of corporate disclosure on plastic. The consumer goods sectors assessed are: athletic goods, automobiles, clothing and accessories consumer electronics, durable household goods, food, footwear, furniture, medical and pharmaceutical products, non-durable household goods, personal products, retail, restaurants and bars, tobacco, toys and soft drinks.
The research makes recommendations for companies, including measure, manage and publicly report their use of plastic as many companies already do with carbon emissions.
At present, only half of the 100 consumer goods companies assessed report at least one item of data on plastic use. Disclosure rates vary widely, with no companies in the athletic goods and footwear sectors reporting any usable data compared to almost 90 percent of firms in the durable household goods sector, the report says.
In the longer term, progress on plastic will require companies to work in partnership with other stakeholders. This includes collaborating with government to develop effective legislation and waste management infrastructure, especially in developing countries. Innovation will require companies along supply chains to work together, possibly with an official body acting as coordinator, according to the report.
In other efforts to reduce plastic use, last month PE International developed what it says is the first bioplastics database in the world, enabling companies to consider bioplastics as part of their material choices and compare fossil-fuel based to bioplastic materials.