Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
October 2021

Corporations and Plastic Pollution: Trends in Reporting

Sustainable Futures cover

Research on pathways to reducing plastic pollution often concludes that greater action is needed by the private sector. Yet the private sector is not a monolithic or homogeneous entity. We compiled a novel library of 2,317 corporate reports from the world's 200 largest companies, by revenue, over a ten-year period (2010–2019) and used text mining tools to identify pronounced regional and sectoral variability in the extent to which plastic waste and pollution is of material importance to corporate operations. The results show a dominant focus on recycling, with far less attention to the other stages of the life cycle of plastic. While green clubs have emerged in recent years to mobilize voluntary actions by companies seeking to position themselves as leaders in this context, we see regional and sectoral gaps in green club membership, as well as a tendency for members to be those companies that already had a history of reporting on plastics issues. This analysis provides a starting point for a more nuanced consideration of the private sector's role in addressing plastic pollution, and suggests sectors and regions for prioritization by policymakers and civil society actors seeking to broaden the range of committed corporate actors.