An Australian billionaire is asking household brands to reduce plastic waste by paying a premium for virgin plastics, making recycled products cheaper in comparison.
Andrew Forrest, a mining magnate turned philanthropist who is one of the 10 richest people in Australia, is setting up a $300m (£240m) initiative to encourage the collection and recycling of plastic waste, through his Minderoo Foundation.
The initiative titled Sea The Future will target big companies that use plastic in their packaging, asking them for voluntary contributions that will raise money for recycling projects.
“Industry, fully supported by governments and regulators, is the only sector that can drive the urgent global shift needed to save our oceans from plastic waste,” said Forrest, who launched the plan in New York on Wednesday, after the UN climate action summit highlighted ecological destruction.
“This existential threat requires a global solution, able to transcend borders, politics and corporate responsibility. Only a broadly adopted international industry-led approach will keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment.”
He said the world had only about five years to take drastic action on plastic waste, which is growing so abundant that plastic is on track to outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050, and is estimated to cost $2.2tn a year in environmental and social damage.
By attaching a greater value to plastics, through a higher charge for virgin plastics, Forrest believes that the economics of the packaging industy can be changed, to make it more worthwhile to recycle plastics and avoid using so much material created from fossil fuels.
Forrest said it would also create higher value jobs in recycling and turn waste into an economic resource, which would make it less likely to end up in the sea, and require less fossil fuel than the plastics industry currently uses.
The billionaire has previously called for a global tax on plastics to be imposed by governments, but while some have taken action by banning or putting a charge on plastic bags, and restrictions on single-use plastics, a coordinated global charge looks unlikely.
Sea the Future was welcomed by green campaigners. Andrew Morlet, the chief executive of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which campaigns on the issue, said: “This is exactly the type of systemic thinking needed to build a circular economy, by creating value for used plastic and helping decouple our economy from fossil fuels. [We need to] eliminate the plastics we don’t need, and circulate those we do.”
Funds raised by the Sea the Future project will be devoted to new recycling technology, the infrastructure needed to collect and recycle plastic waste, and the remediation of polluted areas of the seas and coast.