business waste

Plastics crisis? Follow the money

It’s Plastic Free July, which means that millions of people will currently be ‘doing their bit’ to resist the relentless tide of single-use plastics into our homes, towns and countryside. I wish them all the best in their struggle, though I won’t be joining it myself. As I’ve written about before, avoiding plastic is impossible for most people. If you’re lucky enough to have a farmers market and a refill shop, and the money to spend there, you might make it work. For others its just not practical.

Just as importantly, if we’re focusing on individual consumer actions, we’re locating the problem with us as individuals, when plastic is a systemic problem. We need to keep pushing attention back up the supply chain to those choosing to wrap things in plastic in the first place, not those unwrapping it when they get home. Stopping plastic isn’t something that individuals can do on their own. It needs action from supermarkets, food producers, fossil fuel companies, and banks.

It’s that last category that the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) have chosen to focus on with their new campaign Don’t Bank on Plastic, as the banks have largely been left out of the conversation.

That’s an oversight. Drawing on research by Portfolio Earth and the Minderoo Foundation’s Plastic Waste Maker’s Index, ECCR are highlighting the role of banking in the plastic waste crisis. Between 2015 and 2019, banks poured an astonishing $1.7 trillion into plastics, underwriting investments across the globe. If there is widespread concern about plastic pollution, the banks didn’t get the memo. Not while there is money to be made.

Those banks include the likes of Barclays, HSBC and Natwest, all high street names in the UK, and all involved in funding plastics at large scale. So ECCR are calling on customers of these banks to get in touch and ask their banks what they are doing about plastic, and how they are financing a circular economy instead of profiting from pollution. You might like to join them in sending an email.

If you’re doing Plastic Free July as well – great. Let’s all do what we can, but don’t accept responsibility for the plastic crisis while corporations make fortunes out of trashing the planet. Making it a consumer choice issue has been very convenient for the banks and the fossil fuel companies, and it’s time we sent a clear signal: don’t bank on plastics.


  1. A family member was recently in ICU. Virtually every medical device used in their care and treatment was made out of plastic. Heart monitor, EEG machine, ventilator, IV tubes. All our computers, vehicles, planes and other machines depend on plastic. We have to find something to replace plastic or go back to pre industrial revolution living. Not a very pleasant choice.

    1. I don’t think the choice is that stark. It’s not a choice between plastic or no plastic. It’s about using it wisely. It’s a remarkable material and we don’t want to turn our backs on it.

      So, let’s abandon single-use plastics. Let’s make sure that all plastic packaging is biodegradeable or recyclable. And let’s use plastic where we need it most – and ICU would be a perfect example.

      1. Packaging accounts for 36 per cent of plastics used, and not all of that is single use. More than fifty per cent of all plastics are used for building, textiles, transportation, electrical, and industrial. Even if we eliminated single use packaging, we would still have much more than we can sustain to survive.. We have a lot of work to do to protect future generations..

        1. Sure, and we want to wind down as many of those as we can. Single use plastics is the obvious place to start and we can’t even get consensus on that yet. So we work on that. We wind back usage in building and textiles, where plastic was barely used a few years ago.

          But at no point does the choice ever need to be between the status quo and going back to before the industrial revolution.

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