, , - Posted on November 16, 2023

New Report on Plastic Credit Schemes Reveals Industry ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ In The Fight Against Plastic Pollution

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17 November 2023, Nairobi, Kenya – Today, Break Free From Plastic and Global Alliance Against Incinerator Alternatives has released a comprehensive report with exclusive findings on Verra and Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX)'s plastic offsetting projects, shedding light on serious flaws in the concept.

Verra, an organisation that manages the largest voluntary carbon market programme, currently boasts 41 plastic collection and recycling projects across 16 countries. Although in its infancy, the market's potential is substantial. BFFP estimates that by 2030, Verra's existing projects could generate up to 9,323,459 credits, accumulating a potential revenue of $4.67 billion if each credit is sold for $500 per tonne.

The report reveals a concerning trend: over a fifth of Verra’s projects (22%) are sending plastic to cement kilns for incineration, raising alarms among experts about potential environmental consequences. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives warns that burning waste in cement kilns releases harmful pollutants, including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, impacting air quality and contaminating the food chain. As reported by SourceMaterial, 86% of projects on PCX’s database are sending waste to cement kilns.

Verra's plastic credit system is under intense scrutiny as the report uncovers significant flaws. An alarming 83% of plastic offsetting projects lack additionality, challenging the fundamental principle of credits supporting activities that wouldn't happen without the financial aid from the sale of credits. A critical concern is the financial backing from major plastic polluters and chemical firms, including Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Danone, Borealis AG, and Braskem Netherlands.

Equally troubling is the discovery that eight projects, constituting 19.5% of the total, completed a full seven-year crediting period, before being certified to sell credits. This backdating of credits makes a mockery of Verra’s claims that finance from the sale of plastic credits can enable the development of such waste management infrastructure ‘that is otherwise not viable without the revenue from the crediting mechanism’.

Experts emphasise that Verra's failure to ensure additionality undermines the integrity of the plastic credit system, as it approves projects already in operation. Exclusive interviews with founders of credit-generating projects provide firsthand accounts of the challenges and shortcomings within the system, highlighting the need for a thorough re-evaluation to ensure transparency, accountability, and adherence to impactful environmental practices.

The report also questions the claimed improvements in the lives of informal waste pickers, as 78% of projects make this assertion without clear evidence of actual improvements.

BreakFreeFromPlastic calls for increased transparency, stringent adherence to environmental standards, and a re-evaluation of plastic credit practices to ensure a meaningful impact on global plastic pollution. The report is available for download at [https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/smoke-and-mirrors/].

Key Quotes:

Neil Tangri, science and policy director at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

Having sabotaged the climate change convention with worthless carbon credit schemes, the offsetting industry is now setting its sights on the plastic treaty, where it promises to wreak similar havoc. Offsetting allows polluters to escape responsibility, assuring the public that the problem is solved when in reality, it is growing out of control. Financing must go into badly-needed Just Transition funds for Global South societies, not private payoffs to consultancies and paper-pushing firms. If countries fail to learn the lessons of the disastrous carbon market, the plastics treaty will similarly be destined for history’s scrap heap.”

Emma Priestland, Corporate Campaign Coordinator of BreakFreeFromPlastic.

“Plastic offsetting is a sham and no company should engage in it. Plastic offsetting does not reduce plastic pollution or address how much plastic a company produces. By setting up plastic offsetting schemes, companies greenwash their image and avoid making real, substantive changes in the amount of single-use plastic they use.”

Verra is pushing to have plastic offsetting enshrined in a future plastic treaty when they only have one single project actually issuing credits. Plastic offsetting is a particularly shady form of greenwashing that lulls companies, policymakers and consumers into a false sense of security that their plastic footprint is being excused by someone, somewhere, collecting waste. But the terrible reality is it actually harming communities by sending plastic to be burned in cement kilns.

Axel Michaelowa, Senior Founding Partner at the consultancy Perspectives Climate Group and researcher at the University of Zurich.

“For many years, the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol has required a letter of prior consideration from projects that wanted to claim carbon credits in the future. This would be the minimum that any decent plastic credit standard would require. Thus, allocating plastic credits for projects that have been in operation since 2016 is perverse. In 2016, nobody was talking about plastic credits so it is inconceivable that these projects were planned taking into account the revenue from plastic credits.”

Therese Karlsson, PhD, IPEN’s Science and Technical Advisor.

“Plastics contain thousands of toxic chemicals that create health risks to humans and the environment. Heating and burning plastic wastes produces even more toxic chemicals and should not be considered an ethical corporate practice that provides environmental benefits. This situation shows the urgent need for reducing plastic production and eliminating toxic chemicals from plastics.”

Yuyun Ismawati, Senior Advisor of Nexus3 Foundation and IPEN Plastic Advisor

“When plastic credits include the utilisation or conversion of low-grade plastics into fuel, RDF, coprocessing in cement kilns, or cofiring in coal-fired power plants, the chemicals in plastics spread wider and expose more toxic pollutants to the workers and the communities around the facilities. Unfortunately, the cement industry rarely discloses its emissions nor releases them publicly. The plastic credit claimed for coprocessing or cofiring has more costly negative health impacts on the communities than the credits’ value. Verra should exclude plastic credit claims from false solutions in their Plastic Standard.”

Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste Campaigner, Greenpeace Philippines

“Plastic credit companies aggravate the plastics crisis by giving corporations the license to pollute. By burning plastic in cement kilns, it damages ecosystems, harms our health and drives climate change, while letting plastic production remain unrestrained. Communities in the Philippines and elsewhere should not have to bear the costs of corporate addiction to plastic. Countries must reject plastic credits to protect people and nature.”

For media inquiries, please contact:

Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead, GAIA: claire@no-burn.org | +1 973 444 4869 (WhatsApp)

Devayani Khare, Regional Communications Officer: devayani@breakfreefromplastic.org.

#breakfreefromplastic (BFFP) is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,500 organizations representing millions of supporters around the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions. www.breakfreefromplastic.org

GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 1,000 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. http://no-burn.org

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