Plastic Industry’s Recycling Deception Exposed: Why action on plastic production is imperative

Emissions, Plastic, Financial Risk & Reward, Shareholder Engagement, Transparency & Traceability, Equity
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London 19 June 2024 – The global plastic industry’s long-standing narrative of recycling as the panacea for plastic pollution has been debunked in a new report by Planet Tracker.

The plastic recycling deception” sheds light on the deceptive practices employed by the plastic industry, urging stakeholders to re-evaluate their approach to plastic waste management.

For years, the plastic industry has promoted recycling as the solution to the world’s plastic pollution crisis. However, Planet Tracker’s report reveals a stark reality: globally, 91% of plastic is not recycled. The industry’s use of resin identification codes (RIC), often mistaken for recycling symbols, has further misled policymakers, regulators and consumers into believing in the circularity of plastic.

“The plastic industry’s tactics have successfully shifted focus away from upstream measures, such as limiting production and adopting alternative materials,” said John Willis, Director of Research at Planet Tracker. “By promoting the illusion of recyclability, the industry has effectively passed the financial burden of waste treatment onto local municipalities and waste-pickers, often the financially weakest link in the plastic supply chain”.

The report highlights:

Misleading Recycling Symbols: The plastic industry’s resin identification codes, often wrongly perceived as recycling symbols, do not represent recyclability, only the source material.

History of Deception: The plastic industry is keen to promote recycling as the solution to plastic pollution in order to allow for the continued expansion of production and to protect profit margins.

Not our problem: To date, this strategy has successfully shifted the blame for global plastic pollution on to consumers and municipalities (or their sub-contractors). Few municipalities can afford these clean-up costs and many consumers have no waste collection.

Financial Market Blind Spot: Financial markets have bought into the recycling illusion, assigning low equity risk premia to plastic producers. However, the report warns that investors, lenders and insurers must consider the full spectrum of risks associated with plastic pollution.

As the world grapples with escalating plastic pollution, Planet Tracker urges investors and policymakers to look beyond recycling as a singular solution. We encourage investors to o support the Investor Statement on the role of petrochemical companies in resolving plastic pollution and engage with the industry towards the transition to production of safe, environmentally sound and sustainable plastic.

“We encourage stakeholders to factor in the true costs of plastic pollution now,” adds Willis. “Upstream solutions, including extended producer responsibility, taxation and regulation, must be examined to create a sustainable path forward. Recycling alone is unable to cope with existing, let alone rising, plastic waste”.

Read the Report The Recycling Deception: Why action on plastic production is imperativehere.


For more information please contact:

Izzy Shaw Miller, ESG Communications | t: +44 07905 619 881 |


Planet Tracker is an award-winning non-profit financial think tank aligning capital markets with planetary boundaries. Created with the vision of a financial system that is fully aligned with a net-zero, resilient, nature positive and just economy well before 2050, Planet Tracker generates break-through analytics that reveal both the role of capital markets in the degradation of our ecosystem and show the opportunities of transitioning to a zero-carbon, nature positive economy.