Companies kick in $90 million to fight plastic pollution in Asia

October 28, 2018 Updated 10/28/2018

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Major consumer product makers and chemical companies, including Dow Chemical Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. are kicking in $90 million to fight plastics ocean pollution in Asia, and trying to demonstrate that such projects can be viable investments.

The effort will be led by New York-based Circulate Capital LLC, and the investment model will be detailed Oct. 29 at the high-profile Our Oceans conference, hosted by the government of Indonesia in Bali.

Other expected contributors to the fund include Group Danone SA, Unilever NV and Coca-Cola Co.

Organizers said they hope to show that private capital can help to kickstart investment in plastic waste management in Asian countries that generate significant amount of marine pollution, but often lack resources to better manage the packaging waste from their growing consumer societies.

“Institutional investors are unwilling to allocate to this sector because of a ’missing middle‘ — proven entities that demonstrate a track record of profitability and offer a robust pipeline of investment prospects,” said Rob Kaplan, CEO of Circulate Capital. “By partnering with the world’s leading corporations, many of which are direct competitors, we can leverage their patient capital and technical know-how to build on-ramps for institutional capital at scale over the longer-term.”

Dow said it sees the effort as supporting practical methods of reducing plastic waste and ocean pollution.

“Circulate Capital’s initiative is important because it empowers local people in the regions most impacted by waste to develop actionable and scalable solutions within their communities,” said Diego Donoso, president of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “There are many people with both the ideas and the resolve to tackle this waste challenge and Dow is proud to help provide the capital to make those ideas into solutions.”

The environmental group Ocean Conservancy will participate with Circulate Capital at the Oct. 29 event, and said the announcement builds on work at the same conference last year, in Malta, that saw the companies and groups pledge $150 million to combat plastic marine litter.

At the time, the Washington-based Ocean Conservancy estimated it would take three to five years to get the fund fully operational.

“With an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean every year we need all hands-on deck to solve this problem, including the private sector,” said Chever Voltmer, plastics initiative director at Ocean Conservancy. “That’s why we were so eager to work with Circulate Capital and corporate partners last year to launch an investment firm that would invest in much-needed waste management solutions; and we are so proud to join them in making this funding announcement.”

Circulate Capital said the $90 million investment also builds on an announcement it made in September, at the G7 Oceans Partnership Summit in Canada, with the organization SecondMuse. The two groups said they wanted to build a network of philanthropic and public funds, and technical assistance, to support work on ocean issues.

“Moving away from a linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption to one that is circular by design will require new business models, investment in innovation and the development of infrastructure,” said David Blanchard, Unilever’s chief R&D officer.

“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 Katharina Stenholm, chief of cycles and procurement officer of Danone. “Financing is often a barrier for proper waste management infrastructure implementation, especially in countries where formal systems are absent or in development.”

Circulate Capital was created in partnership with Closed Loop Partners, which put together a similar $100 million investment fund to support recycling in North America, and Ocean Conservancy.

More commitments are expected to be announced at the Bali Conference.

The 2017 edition of the event, in Malta, included more than 100 commitments from governments, companies and groups on marine pollution, much of it targeted at plastics. They included:

Plastics materials firm Borealis AG announced multimillion investments in a plastics recycling company in Germany and to set up a fund for waste management in Southeast Asia.

The United States announced $9.1 million in grants to fund projects to reduce marine-bound plastics in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, and $500,000 toward a circular design challenge as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy project.

And the group Think Beyond Plastic announced a $5 million project with California State University at Monterey Bay for a plastics pollution research center aimed at new material innovations.

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