Plastic Disclosure Project

Valuing Plastic Report

Valuing Plastic - The Business Case for Measuring, Managing, and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry

Valuing Plastic Report front cover

In June 2014 the Plastic Disclosure Project, Trucost and UNEP published 'Valuing plastic: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry', at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya and simultaneously at the Plasticity Forum event in New York.

The research was the first-ever assessment of the environmental costs of plastic in business. It calculated the amount of plastic used by stock exchange listed companies in sixteen consumer goods sectors and assessed levels of corporate disclosure on plastic. Trucost calculated the total natural capital cost of plastic in the consumer goods industry to be more than US$75 billion per year. This cost comes from a range of environmental impacts including the harm done by plastic litter to wildlife in the ocean and the loss of valuable resources when plastic waste is sent to landfill rather than being recycled.

This figure also represents the value at risk for consumer goods companies if they fail to mitigate the threat by taking positive action. Our aim is to help companies understand the risks and opportunities of plastic and build a business case for improving its management.

Report Downloads

The report is available for free download in the following formats:

Sector Spotlights

The report provided insights into 16 sectors of the consumer goods industry.  

For the next sixteen weeks, in advance of the 2015 Plasticity Forum to be held in Cascais, Portugal in June 2015, we will publish a short "Sector Spotlight" extract from that report, along with some commentary and a "challenge for the sector".  

We encourage you to review the spotlight for your sector, take up the challenge, and join us in Portugal to share and debate the solutions.

Athletic GoodsAthletic Goods - For every $1m in annual revenue, the athletic goods sector and its supply chain uses 21.5 tonnes of plastic.  Review our Sector Spotlight on Athletic Goods, or our Full Report, and consider our challenge below.  Have your ideas ready for our debate on the future of plastic in Portugal at the 2015 Plasticity Forum.

Challenge for the sector:  How can we increase the percentage of recycled content in these products?

AutomobilesAutomobiles - Plastic is increasingly used in the automotive industry, from approximately 60 kilograms per car in the 1970s, to around 150kg of plastic per car currently. This is equivalent to around 50% of the volume, but only 10% of the total weight of a car.  The trend will likely continue, with plastics nearly doubling to 18% of the weight by 2020, acording to an AT Kearney Report

Plastic presents numerous advantages such that they appear inmore than 2,000 parts per car, made of more than a hundred types and grades of plastic, chosen for their improved durability, corrosion resistance, design flexibility, appearance, rigidity, resistance, weight, and cost. For example, AT Kearney reported "polypropylene (28.6% of the plastics by weight) is used in dashboards, wheel covers, and some engine parts; polyurethane (PUR) is employed in seats; polyethylene (PE) in carpets; and polyamide (PA) in parts that need to be heat- and chemical-resistant. Mass-volume plastics—acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), PP, PUR, and nylon—account for 70 percent of the plastics used in a car, while composites and higher-end plastics account for the rest."

Industry has promoted examples of using recycled plastic in some parts of new cars such as the Ford Focus and Toyota SAI.  While these are positive trends, it is not a widely adopted practice, and far behind the % recycled content of other materials such as metal to date.  This is a significant opportunity for improvement for the sector.

Regarding recycling of plastic from cars at the end of their useful life, this too is starting to improve, in some markets. Under Europe's End of Life Vehicle Directive for example, member countries are required to reuse and recycle 85% of scrap cars by 2015, and reuse, recycle or recover energy from an additional 10%. The metal component of vehicles has been relatively easy to recycle, representing around 75% of a vehicle's weight. But now, with these targets, other components such as plastics must also be recovered.  Recycling of plastic from scrap cars has been problematic to date, partly due to the wide range of polymers and composites used, and also a lack of labelling to help with identification during disassembly.

Industry is working on better solutions (e.g. MBA PolymersAxionUS Industry) to recover and recycle plastic from used cars, and we have even started to see examples of these recovered plastics being recycled into new car parts again, "closing the loop". (e.g. BMW Mini air vent).  Again, however, as these practices are not widespread, there is room for significant improvement.

Review our Sector Spotlight on Automobiles, or our Full Report, and consider our challenge below.  Join us in Portugal with your ideas at the 2015 Plasticity Forum.

Challenge for the sector: How can we raise the percentage of recycled plastic content for all cars, while also ensuring they are increasingly easy to disassemble and recycle at end of life?

ToysToys - The production of toys uses 48 tonnes of plastic per $1m in revenue annually.  More significantly, the natural capital cost of this plastic ($3.3bn per year) represents 3.9% of revenue, suggesting companies in the toy sector have the most opportunity, and the most at risk, from a business perspective.  While there have been positive changes, such as Hasbro eliminating plastic wrapping for instructions, and Lego announcing its plans to move away from ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), toy companies are generally poor at disclosing their plastic footprint and their overall plans.

Some toys are passed down through the generations, but many are not (in the UK alone 8.5m new and usable toys are landfilled every year).  They are also getting more complicated to disassemble and recycle as several types of plastic, plus other materials and electronics are increasingly part of the design, and few are made from recycled plastic.

Review our Sector Spotlight on Toys, or our Full Report, and consider our challenge below.  Join us in Portugal with your ideas at the 2015 Plasticity Forum.

Challenge for the sector:  How can the sector keep pace with the rate at which their 'users' outgrow their toys and grow into new ones? Can toys be designed with recycling or recapture in mind, such as standardized materials and bring-back programs?

TobaccoTobacco - Tobacco companies have been blamed for many things, including being a major source of litter on land and in the water. Indeed, studies estimate that Tobacco litter represents nearly 32% of all litter in outdoor recreation areas and in storm drains, more than 800,000 tonnes of butts litter the natural environment each year and are the single most collected items in the annual Trash Free Seas reports, and thus associated with the overall burden of cleanup costs (over $11bn/year in the US alone) and social impacts as well.

Cigarette filters are made of a natural plastic called cellulose acetate and were introduced in the 1950s in order to decrease the toxic chemicals inhaled by smokers. However, filters take between 1 month and 15 years to biodegrade depending on the receiving environment, and also have physical impacts on 'natural capital' during the process. The main impacts we have calculated include collection costs, disamenity, leachate of toxic chemicals and ingestion by local fauna, totalling $890m in natural capital impacts per year.

Tobacco companies are taking steps against littering. For example, Imperial Tobacco supports several local initiatives to change consumer behaviour towards littering, such as the ’Keep Australia Beautiful’ campaign. Japan Tobacco measures and discloses much of their 'plastic footprint', and has rolled out a citizen participation clean-up campaign (’Pick up and you will love your city’) initiative in 47 prefectures. Reynolds American collected 2m cigarette butts in 6 months in partnership with TerraCycle.

Challenge for the sector: While several Tobacco companies are taking steps to reduce their impacts, what more can be done? Can they make yet further improvements in consumer behaviour and capture of waste? Can materials technology come to the rescue?

Review our Sector Spotlight on Tobacco, or our Full Report, and consider the above challenge the the sector. Join us in Portugal with your ideas at the 2015 Plasticity Forum.

( disclosure: PDP is an initiative of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, a founding member of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, with Ocean Conservancy. Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, subsequently joined the alliance as a Regular Member )

Coming Soon:

Clothing and Accessories *coming soon*

Consumer Electronics *coming soon*

Durable Household Goods *coming soon*

Food *coming soon*

Footwear *coming soon*

Furniture *coming soon*

Medical and Parmaceutical Products *coming soon*

Non-Durable Household Goods *coming soon*

Personal Products *coming soon*

Restaurants *coming soon*

Retail *coming soon*

Soft Drinks *coming soon*

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