Valuing Plastic Report
Valuing Plastic - The Business Case for Measuring, Managing, and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry
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.
The report is available for free download in the following formats:
- Press Release and Executive Summary in English.
- Press Release in Traditional Chinese.
- Executive Summary translated courtesy of UNEP: French Spanish Russian Chinese Arabic
- Full Report (in English only, requires free registration).
The report provided insights into 16 sectors of the consumer goods industry.
Athletic 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.
Challenge for the sector: How can we increase the percentage of recycled content in these products?
Automobiles - 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 Polymers, Axion, US 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.
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?
Toys - 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