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Alliance members call project: 'A global organization set up for action'

More than $1 billion is being pledged to help tackle the ocean plastics problem through a consortium of nearly 30 companies that includes some of the biggest names in the plastics industry.

The new Alliance to End Plastic Waste already has a $1 billion commitment from alliance members and wants to up that total to $1.5 billion to work on the problem during the next five years.

Alliance founders include companies all along the so-called plastics value chain.

"It's a global organization set up for action," said Jim Seward, vice president of sustainability for LyondellBlasell Industries, the giant chemicals and plastics company that is a charter member of the group.

The nonprofit alliance, he explained, will differ from trade groups by taking steps to address plastic waste and will not engage in advocacy on behalf of the plastics industry.

"You won't see the alliance lobbying," he said.

The American Chemistry Council helped organize the alliance, but it is a separate group. Steve Russell is vice president of the plastics division within ACC.

"The alliance will exist as a mechanism to facilitate investment and to accelerate innovation in business models and processes and design," Russell said.

"The need is to develop new ​ business models to accelerate investment and to engage all sectors of society in addressing what has not yet been a priority," Russell said. "This announcement marks a beginning."

But it also brought criticism from environmental groups.

Pollution has always been a vexing problem for the plastics industry, and the recent focus on plastic ocean waste has put a white-hot light on the issue.

A common response, in the past, has been to say that the matter is a solid waste management issue and not a plastics industry issue.

But the new alliance seeks to inject itself into the waste management portion of the problem by helping design systems in "large urban areas where infrastructure is lacking, especially along rivers which transport vast amounts of unmanaged plastic waste from land to ocean," the alliance said.

The most problematic rivers contributing to the ocean plastic problem are, for the most part, located in Asia.

The goal is to create repeatable programs and solutions that can be applied in multiple locations, especially in areas with "high plastic leakage," the alliance said.

Founding members of the alliance include big names such as BASF SE, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow Chemical Co., DSM NV, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corp. USA, Henkel, LyondellBasell, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, Nova Chemicals, OxyChem, PolyOne Corp., Procter & Gamble, Reliance Industries, Saudi Basic Industries Corp., Sasol, Suez, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total, Veolia and Versalis.

Alliance organizers expect the organization to grow over time.

"This is a wide challenge, a global challenge, a challenge we believe spans the value chain. And, so the most effective way to address this challenge of plastic waste in the environment is through broad collaboration," LyondellBasell's Seward said. "You can achieve a lot more as an alliance than you can as an individual company."

Other aspects of the work include creation of an incubator by Circulate Capital to foster creation of technology, business models and entrepreneurs to tackle the issue.

The alliance also wants to create an "open source, science-based global information" system to support plastic waste management.

The new group also points to a need to collaborate with intergovernmental agencies, such as the United Nations, to develop training to help them identify solutions.

LyondellBasell Industries Seward Developing infrastructure

A group called Renew Oceans, which works to create local engagement and investment, also is being supported. Renew Oceans seeks to capture plastic waste before it enters the ocean from 10 rivers that have been identified as the biggest contributors to the problem.

Work in the months ahead will include infrastructure development for both waste management and increased recycling, work to "advance and scale new technologies that make recycling and recovering plastics easier and create value from all post-use plastics," and engagement of education of governments, businesses and communities to spur action, the alliance said.

Organizers also will spend money on actual cleaning of "concentrated areas of plastic waste already in the environment," the group said. That includes the rivers that allow once land-based plastics to find oceans after they are swept into the water.

Environmental group Greenpeace sees the new alliance as a way to keep the "status quo" and allow for the continued production of single-use plastics rather than prioritizing reduction.

"The same companies that rely on cheap plastics to profit off of countries in the global south are now looking to build up some infrastructure so they can claim they tried to tackle the plastics problem, while ensuring their profits keep rolling in," Graham Forbes, global plastic project leader for Greenpeace, said in a statement. "The truth is we will never escape this plastic pollution crisis through better recycling and waste management efforts."

Oceana, another environmental group, was equally as skeptical and called for the reduction in production of single-use plastics.

"The industry coalition's promise to solve the plastic pollution crisis with waste management and cleanup is a nice dream, but it's not sufficient to solve the plastic problem," Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's chief policy officer, said in a statement.

"We are at a pivotal moment in the plastic pollution crisis. The insistence on generating and using more plastic is not sustainable. Plastic-filled bellies of marine birds, sea turtles and fish tell us that this has gone way too far," she continued.

Oceana said relying on waste management to solve the problem is a mistake.

Creation of the alliance helps focus past individual efforts on a collective goal, said Paul Augustowski, LyondellBasell's senior vice president of olefins and polyolefins for the Americas.

"For many years, we've been working toward these same objectives, but in smaller pockets. I think our conclusion at this point in time is we need to work more toward common interests and on a much broader scale than what we have in the past," Augustowski said.

As for the name of the new group, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, is a lofty goal, both Russell and Augustowski agreed.

"The executives believe that there is both a need and an opportunity to do just that. It is an aspirational statement because that is the goal they wish to achieve. They have said that's an achievable goal," Russell said.

And while the alliance has established a five-year goal of spending $1.5 billion, Russell said the problem will take longer than that to fix.

"If we don't aspire to achieving great things, then we won't," Augustowski said.

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» Publication Date: 17/01/2019

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