A billionaire Australian businessman and renowned philanthropist wants to tax virgin resins to stop the "escalating tide of plastic waste."
Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest chairs and was previously CEO of Perth, Australia-based iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. He is its biggest shareholder and, in 2018, had wealth of A$6.1 billion (US$4.35 billion), according to the Australian Financial Review.
His philanthropic pursuits include the Minderoo Foundation, which is committed to a range of projects, including one called "Flourishing Oceans" to clean up oceans.
Forrest told a Boao Forum for Asia on China's Hainan Island that a tax on plastic could head off increasing environmental problems of plastic bottles and bags being thrown into the sea in developing countries.
He told Plastics News: "This is an urgent global concern. China's wise decision to stop importing waste means nations like Australia are now sending their garbage to countries, predominantly in Asia, that lack the capacity to safely process it and it risks ending up in the ocean.
"We need an effective, systemwide solution for a devastating systemwide problem. We need to make plastic waste no longer a poison of oceans but a resource opportunity for billions of people. It must be viewed as a commodity, rather than waste after first use. To enable this, we need to create an environment that allows for economic recycling of plastics. We can do that through a global premium on virgin polymer."
Forrest said a tax on virgin plastic will encourage more recycling.
"Through Minderoo Foundation's Flourishing Oceans initiative, we are examining the best way for this tax to be structured and implemented, and consulting industry. Business leaders I have spoken to so far understand industry is the key to addressing this critical global challenge.
"Until now, many big industry players have supported little, fragmented solutions, which won't come close to denting the tide of plastic killing our oceans. We need to come together to apply a tax on polymer to raise the value of plastic garbage and ensure it is collected and recycled before it reaches our oceans. The cost to do this is minimal but the opportunity to save our oceans from the devastation we are causing is massive. As big industry, let's come together to make this happen."
Forrest's call echoes a similar suggestion from Swiss investment bank Credit Suisse Group AG's Australian arm last year. In a report called The Age of Plastic: At a Tipping Point, Credit Suisse said Australia's Federal Government could introduce an emergency tax on virgin resin by 2020 to deal with the problem.
The report said the government may also need to enforce tariffs on imported plastic goods, ban single-use plastics, and introduce tax incentives for products with recycled content.
It said "problematic plastics" and additives that are difficult to recycle or hinder the recycling process should be replaced with other plastics.
Jeff Angel, executive director of the Sydney-based Total Environment Centre and director of the Boomerang Alliance, a network of environmental organizations, "We need an armory of instruments to tackle the plastic pollution crisis to implement plastic avoidance, replacement and use of recycled material," he told Plastics News. "Certainly taxes could play a role in making non-plastic items more competitive, but I don't underestimate the political difficulty of achieving that, particularly given the ramping up in virgin plastic production planned by the petrochemical industry. Plastic is poison in the oceans and we need healthy oceans for our survival."