The FTSE 100 group was among the twenty banks, with HSBC PLC (LON:HSBA) and Bank of America, lending an estimated US$30 billion for the production of single-use plastic polymers between 2011 and 2020.
Barclays financed 477 deals, for a total value of loans and underwriting of US$68.3bn, according to a report carried out by a consortium including the London School of Economics, Minderoo Foundation and Planet Tracker.
Earlier this month, a report from environmental groups Reclaim Finance and Urgewald said that the bank had substantially increased lending to the coal industry since the Paris climate agreement in 2015.
Looking at manufacturers, US firms ExxonMobil and Dow and China’s Sinopec accounted for 16% of global single-use plastic waste, as it emerged that the industry is dominated by a few companies.
In 2019, just 20 polymer producers were behind more than half of all single-use plastic waste generated globally – and the top 100 accounted for 90%.
Twenty institutional asset managers, including Vanguard Group and Capital Group, hold over US$300bn worth of shares in the parent companies of polymer producers, of which an estimated US$10bn comes from the production of virgin polymers for single-use items.
Single-use plastics account for over a third of plastics produced every year, with 98% manufactured from fossil fuels.
They also account for most of the plastic thrown away the world over: more than 130mln metric tons in 2019 – almost all of which is burned, buried in landfill, or discarded directly into the environment.
Most of it is likely to end up in the ocean, where it breaks down into tiny particles that impact wildlife health and have been found in humans and are linked to a range of reproductive health problems.
“Government policies, where they exist, tend to focus on the vast number of companies that sell finished plastic products. Relatively little attention has been paid to the smaller number of businesses at the base of the supply chain that make “polymers” – the building blocks of all plastics – almost exclusively from fossil fuels,” the report read.
“These companies are the source of the single-use plastic crisis: their production of new ‘virgin’ polymers from oil, gas and coal feedstocks perpetuates the take-make-waste dynamic of the plastics economy. The economies of scale for fossil-fuel-based production are undermining the transition to a ‘circular’ plastic economy, with negative impacts on waste collection rates, on end-of-life management and on rates of plastic pollution. The focus needs to be on producing recycled polymers from plastic waste, on re-use models and on alternative substitute materials.”