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Consumer Companies Invest in Waste Collection

Updated: Apr 4, 2019

The world is waking up to a crisis of ocean plastic—and we're tracking the developments and solutions as they happen.

By Brian Clark Howard, Sarah Gibbens, Elaina Zachos and Laura Parker

THE WORLD HAS a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action.

Each year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean from coastal regions. That’s about equivalent to five grocery bags of plastic trash piled up on every foot of coastline on the planet. All that plastic is causing harm to the creatures that live in the ocean, from coral reefs smothered in bags, to turtles gagging on straws, to whales and seabirds that starve because their bellies are so jammed with bits of plastic that there’s no room for real food.

New research is emerging apace about the possible long-term impacts of tiny pieces of plastic on the marine food chain—raising fresh questions about how it might ultimately impact human health and food security.

About 40 percent of all plastic produced is used in packaging, and much of that is used only once and then discarded. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled, though many countries and businesses are trying innovative solutions to increase that number.


October 25, 2018

To keep plastic pollution from entering waterways, manufacturers either have to stop making it or make sure it's collected at the end of its life. But in some developing nations, that waste collection infrastructure is insufficient or nonexistent.

Circulate Capital, a New York City-based investment firm started in 2018, says they have raised $90 million to invest in this issue in Southeast Asia, a move endorsed by conservation group the Ocean Conservancy. CEO of Circulate Capital Rob Kaplan says this investment will go toward improving plastic waste collection on the ground and creating markets for collected material.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Danone, Unilever, and Dow are committed to funding the $90 million investment, and Circulate Capital says a deal will be inked by early 2019. The firm says they are also working on ways for medium and small companies to invest.

“While we are working hard to ensure our packaging is designed to be circular, the reality is that it cannot be reused, recycled or composted without effective waste management systems in place,” said Danone's Katharina Stenholm in a press release. She was referring to the concept of a circular economy, in which any waste materials in an industry, such as packaging, are reincorporated into new products.

The majority of the world's ocean plastic comes from 10 rivers, eight of which are in Asia, and Circulate Capital is working with scientific advisors, including National Geographic explorer Jenna Jambeck, to pinpoint where their investments can be the most effective.

Plastic bottles, for example, can be collected by small local companies and sold to manufacturers to make new products. Though discarded plastic is often of lower quality, some projects already underway have proved the model can function, and Circulate Capital hopes its investment can lead to new innovations. (Read about an effort to recycle stranded fishing nets into carpet.)

“There's no silver bullet to stop plastic pollution,” says Kaplan. “We're not going to be able to recycle our way out of the problem, and we're not going to be able to reduce our way out of the problem.”

But, he hopes Circulate Capital's investments can serve as one piece of the puzzle. He estimates more than a billion dollars would be needed to really build out more efficient waste infrastructure in Southeast Asia. Circulate Capital hopes to bump their commitments to at least $100 million over the next few year as a move in that direction.

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