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Report: Companies need to measure and report their plastic use

By: Gayle S. Putrich

June 23, 2014

The consumer goods sector spends $75 billion a year on plastic, with the food and soft drink industries leading the way in spending, though companies’ willingness and ability to disclose how much plastic they use varies wildly and is often nonexistent, according to a unique new report on consumer plastics being released today.

The report, Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry, by the Plastic Disclosure Project with help from research firm Trucost, uses natural capital valuation to identify pollution or resource overuse hotspots in the consumer goods industry.

The report found companies’ disclosure of plastic use to be poor and inconsistent. Less than half of the 100 companies surveyed reported one or more useable data points, according to the report, with no apparent correlation between a sector’s disclosure rate and its plastic use or spending.

“Disclosure rates vary widely with no companies in the footwear and athletic goods sectors reporting any useable quantitative data points, compared with 88 percent of firms in the durable household goods sector and 71 percent in the personal products sector,” the report says. “Quantitative data points span from total quantity of plastic used per year by the company to tonnage of plastic saved due to one recycling initiative.”

Sectors facing the most significant risks to their revenues from legislation, competition and consumer demand regarding plastic need to consider more transparency regarding how they are managing the potentially major issue, the report concluded.

With the information reported, the Plastic Disclosure Project found that the toy, athletic goods and durable household goods sectors use the most plastic in products per $1 million in revenue, according to the report. The soft drink, personal products and pharmaceutical sectors are among the most intensive users of plastic, primarily in packaging.

Using the most plastic per $1 million in revenue in their supply chains were the retail, restaurant and tobacco sectors, likely due to those sectors’ position in the supply chain and reliance on the agricultural sector, the report says.

“By placing a financial value on materials such as plastic waste, companies can see the savings gained from reuse and recycling, which builds a business case to make sustainability improvements,” said Trucost CEO Richard Mattison, ahead of the report’s release.

Mattison and others will discuss the report later today at a media round table in Nairobi at the U.N. Environment Assembly and in New York as part of the one-day Plasticity Forum, organized by the Ocean Recovery Alliance.