At talks on cutting plastics pollution, plastics credits are on the table. What are they?

At talks on cutting plastics pollution, plastics credits are on the table. What are they?

17 Nov    AP, Finance News, PMN Business

Article content

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Two groups that want reduced plastics production published a report Friday highly critical of plastics credits, calling them a flawed tool that won’t help with worldwide pollution from the material.

The groups — Break Free From Plastic and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives — said the credits often amount to corporate greenwashing. They issued their report in Nairobi on the sidelines of United Nations-led negotiations for a treaty aimed at cutting plastics pollution.

Advertisement 2

Story continues below

Article content

Article content

They analyzed publicly available databases of two prominent proponents of plastic offsetting, the accreditor Verra and the Plastic Credit Exchange marketplace. Their report cited “serious flaws” in financing, transparency and basic auditing, and said credits being issued for plastic incinerated in cement kilns were substituting one form of pollution for another.

Verra, the world’s leading certifier of carbon offsets, said in a presentation alongside the talks that plastic credits can be a tool for mobilizing the money needed to tackle plastic pollution.

See also  Chinese automaker BYD plans a new EV plant in Hungary as part of its rapid global expansion

“The finance associated with the treaty is near as important as its ambition,” Kristen Linscott, senior program officer for plastics policy and markets at Verra, said in a presentation. “Without the proper funding mechanisms and tools, even the most ambitious treaty won’t deliver its promised impact.”


Plastic credits, sometimes called offsets, work a bit like the carbon credits that many fossil fuel companies have purchased to try to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. The concept involves companies or people paying for a specified weight of plastic to be collected somewhere in the world, generating a credit that justifies their production or use of the equivalent amount of plastic.

Advertisement 3

Story continues below

Article content

Nina Kelsey, associate professor of public policy and international affairs at George Washington University, said it’s tough for some companies to accept producing less plastic from their factories.

“So instead, I’m going to do something that is a bit easier, which is I’m going to pay to have that same amount of plastic removed from the world,” she said.

The exchange is facilitated by accreditors like Verra, marketplaces like the Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX), or private companies that trade in credits or organize credit-generating activities. When companies buy enough plastic credits to offset their plastic footprint over a set period of time, some may claim plastic neutrality or “net-zero plastic.”

Kelsey, who was not involved in Friday’s report, said it’s a good thing to encourage people to take plastic waste out of the environment, but it’s not as good as putting less plastic into the environment. There’s a meaningful difference between plastic that’s out in the world, shedding microplastics, and a piece of plastic that never exists, she added.


Article content

Advertisement 4

Story continues below

Article content

Break Free From Plastic movement and GAIA looked at projects by Verra and the Plastic Credit Exchange, and used previous data analysis by SourceMaterial, a journalism nonprofit that reports on topics including climate change. Their report found that Verra has just one project actually issuing credits, and most of the projects on the exchange’s database generate credits from sending waste to be burned rather than recycled.

See also  In Minneapolis, armed patrol group tries to keep the peace

“Often companies are buying credits under the assumption that they’re going to be helping the environment and removing plastic, when actually in a lot of cases they are just transforming that pollution from plastic pollution into toxic air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that is harming communities,” said Emma Priestland, global corporate campaigns coordinator at Break Free From Plastic.

The report says some projects are claiming credits for infrastructure built years before, despite claims that the plastic credit revenue can enable the development of such waste management infrastructure that is otherwise not viable, it says.

Advertisement 5

Story continues below

Article content

It also says there are serious doubts about the additionality of Verra’s plastic credit program — a key offsetting concept meaning that credits pay for activities, in this case waste collection and recycling, that wouldn’t happen without the financial programs.

By 2030, Verra’s existing projects could generate as many as 9 million credits if all projects are approved and some are renewed, the report says, and if each credit is sold for $500 per ton, that’s more than $4.6 billion.

The Break Free From Plastic movement and GAIA say that plastic offsetting fails to deliver on its basic promise of helping companies reduce their impact on the environment, instead substituting one type of fossil fuel for another by burning plastics instead of coal.

“Businesses that wish to act more sustainably are better served by reducing plastic use across their operations, and not attempting to offset it,” the report concludes.


Verra says there are several benefits of plastic credits, notably how they can help keep plastics out of the environment by enabling the creation of sound plastic waste collection and recycling infrastructure and capacities. The company also says money raised from waste collection and recycling credits can generate income for “the informal waste sector” — people who pick through waste — and give them safer working conditions.

Advertisement 6

Story continues below

Article content

At Verra’s event in Nairobi, Linscott said plastic credits can help low- and middle- income countries get the financing to establish and scale up waste management infrastructure and its program helps increase global recycling collection and recycling capacity.

“There are more benefits than just the plastic being collected or recycled,” she said.

The Plastic Credit Exchange says its mission is to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and build a future where no plastic waste ends up in nature. It says it was established in 2019 in the Philippines, one of the epicenters of the plastic pollution crisis.


Environmentalists argue that issuing credits for plastic burned in incinerators and cement kilns encourages that burning — thus putting more toxic chemicals into the environment.

See also  Yuan inches up as U.S. yield advantage narrows slightly

“Plastic credits create a new problem because the pollutants become more spread out and they’re invisible,” said Yuyun Ismawati, senior advisor of Nexus3 Foundation and plastic advisor for the International Pollutants Elimination Network Plastic. Ismawati is advocating for communities in Indonesia who are affected by pollution from a plastic credits project there.

Advertisement 7

Story continues below

Article content

Environmental policymakers see plastic credits as a tactic for companies that rely on single-use plastic to avoid changing their business models.

Neil Tangri, science and policy director at GAIA, said the programs will set back efforts to fight plastic pollution as they have created an income stream for people to collect those items and burn them.

“They’re going to push back against a ban because you’re taking away their income,” said Tangri, who contributed to the report. “There is a competition here and they don’t recognize the dynamic that they’re creating.

At its Nairobi side event, Verra denied claims that plastic credits are greenwashing instruments or a false solution. Company executives described plastic credits as a “downstream” solution and only one way to address plastic pollution.

“A lot of the knee-jerk reaction or greenwashing assumption comes from an assumption that plastic credits are the perfect solution,” Linscott said. “Plastic credits are just a tool to be there on the transition to this world we hope to live in where there is no plastic pollution.”

Advertisement 8

Story continues below

Article content


Not in the current draft text, but it’s been discussed.

Negotiators are charged with developing the first international, legally binding treaty on plastic pollution on land and at sea. The gathering in Nairobi is the third in a compressed five-meeting schedule intended to complete negotiations by the end of next year. Most of the world’s nations, petrochemical companies, environmentalists and others affected by the pollution are attending the talks.


McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Article content


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Join the Conversation

This Week in Flyers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *