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Investors with US$10 trillion AuM call on corporates to drastically ramp up action on plastics

  • 185 investors with US$10 trillion in combined assets under management, have signed a statement demanding companies adopt a more radical approach to reduce their reliance on plastics.
  • They are calling for intensive users of plastic packaging – such as FMCGs and grocery retailers – to act more swiftly to address the plastics crisis.
  • Companies should drastically reduce their consumption of single-use plastic packaging whilst implementing reuse systems for packaging, phasing out hazardous chemicals in plastics and advocating for – not against – policies supporting these actions.

185 investors with US$10 trillion in combined assets, coordinated by the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO), are joining forces to call for more action to address the plastics crisis. 

In a joint statement, they warn that the whole plastics lifecycle poses a serious and growing threat to the environment, climate, biodiversity, human rights and public health. The estimated costs to society from plastic pollution – including environmental clean-up, ecosystem degradation, shorter life expectancy and medical treatment – exceed US$ 100 billion per year.

The signatories argue that failing to address these impacts exposes companies to financial risks that threaten value creation and investment returns, given the wave of action to tighten legislation around the world, the increasing number of lawsuits against companies, and a potential threat to brand value.

AXA IM: “With increasing concerns and rising awareness of biodiversity loss and nature degradation, the food industry must transition to more sustainable production and consumption. An important element of this transition is reducing the industry’s reliance on plastics. As intensive users of plastic packaging, food retail and consumer goods companies have a key role to play to make a scalable change and increase financial resilience of their business models by tackling the plastics crisis.”

Investors are asking companies to significantly step up their efforts to deal with the plastics crisis. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – an organisation that convenes major corporate plastic producers and users around common targets – companies will ‘almost certainly’ miss existing targets, increasing – rather than decreasing – their use of single-use plastic packaging overall and failing to demonstrate credible and ambitious plans for reuse.

VBDO executive director Angélique Laskewitz said: “It’s worrying to see most companies in the FMCG and grocery retail sectors are taking limited action to mitigate the financial risks posed by plastics. Today investors are sending a clear signal to these companies they will face ever-increasing pressure if they don’t act soon to substantially reduce their plastic footprint.”

There are between 75 and 199 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean but the problem goes far beyond impacts to the marine environment.

Cradle-to-grave greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 were equivalent to the total annual emissions of the United Kingdom.

The plastics lifecycle is also inextricably linked to growing concern about exposure to toxic chemicals. Over 3,000 potentially harmful chemicals have been identified in food packaging.

The signatories are urging companies to adopt a more radical approach. To deal with the scale of the plastics crisis, they want companies to significantly reduce material consumption, eliminate single-use packaging and upscale reusable packaging systems. Companies need to show an action plan with clearly defined timescales and make progress reporting subject to external verification.

Additionally, they are calling for companies to publicly support – rather than lobby against – ambitious policy on plastic reduction including the Global Plastics Treaty and the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which is currently being overhauled. A recent analysis showed that lobbying efforts by industry associations on the PPWR already managed to considerably weaken some of the measures.

Arthur van Mansvelt, Senior Engagement Specialist at Achmea Investment Management, said: “Most companies are not acting fast enough in the face of the unfolding plastics crisis. The Global Plastics Treaty offers a unique and historic opportunity to tackle the problem at the source – we need companies supporting its ambition on prevention and reuse, not lobby against it. It’s their chance to be part of the solution.”

Finally, investors expect companies to commit to identifying and eliminating the use of hazardous substances contained in plastics, given the significant risks these pose to human health and related risks to financial value.