Production capacity for a key component of single-use plastics could grow by more than 30% over the next five years, a report has warned - as a list of companies come under fire for their contribution to the crisis.
The Plastic Waste Makers Index, published by the Australia-based philanthropic Minderoo Foundation, found that 20 energy and chemicals giants alone contribute to 55% of the world's single-use plastic.
Those include ExxonMobil, Dow, and Sinopec.
The study also looked at around 1,000 factories that make the raw materials needed to produce single-use plastics, revealing for the first time the companies at the bottom of the plastic supply chain that make polymers - which are the building blocks of all plastics.
In the next five years, global capacity to produce these polymers for single-use plastic products such as face masks, medical equipment, shopping bags, coffee cups and cling film could grow by more than 30% - and by as much as 400% for individual companies.
That's despite governments increasingly stressing the importance of tackling the climate crisis, to which the report says plastic is a major contributor.
More than 130 million metric tonnes of single-use plastic was thrown away in 2019, almost all of which is burned, buried in landfill, or discarded directly into the environment.
Of all the plastics, they are the most likely to end up in our ocean, where they account for almost all visible pollution, according to the report, and they contain chemical additives such as plasticisers that have been found in humans and are linked to a range of reproductive health problems.
If growth in single-use plastic production continues at current rates, they could account for 5-10% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
According to the report, the top 20 producers of single-use plastic in 2019 were:
1. ExxonMobil - 5.9%
2. Dow - 5.6%
3. Sinopec - 5.3%
4. Indorama Ventures - 4.6%
5. Saudi Aramco - 4.3%
6. PetroChina - 4%
7. LyondellBasell - 3.9%
8. Reliance Industries - 3.1%
9. Braskem - 3%
10. Alpek SA de CV - 2.3%
11. Borealis - 2.2%
12. Lotte Chemical - 2.1%
13. Ineos - 2%
14. Total - 1.9%
15. Jiangsu Hailun Petrochemical - 1.6%
16. Far Eastern New Century - 1.6%
17. Formosa Plastics Corporation - 1.6%
18. China Energy Investment Group - 1.5%
19. PTT - 1.5%
20. China Resources - 1.3%
The Minderoo Foundation is calling for petrochemicals companies to disclose their "plastic waste footprint" and begin producing plastics from recycled plastic waste rather than fossil fuels.
In emailed comments, ExxonMobil said it "shares society's concern about plastic waste and agrees it must be addressed", requiring a collaborative effort between business, governments, green groups and consumers.
It added that it was taking action to address plastic waste by increasing recyclability, as well as supporting efforts to recover more plastic waste and working on advanced recycling solutions that could help lower greenhouse gas emissions linked to products.
The report, developed with energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie and researchers at think tanks and universities, said nearly 60% of the commercial finance for the single-use plastic industry derives from 20 global banks that have loaned almost $30bn (£21bn) for polymer production since 2011.
The top three contributors are Barclays ($3.1bn), HSBC ($3.1bn), and Bank of America ($2.9bn).
The study also looked at which countries generate the most single-use plastic waste based on per head of population, with Australia ranking first.
The US was second and the UK came in fourth, with more than 40kg of plastic waste generated per person per year, according to the authors.