On Wednesday 3rd March, World Wildlife Day, EdenTree were proud to partner with the Marine Conservation Society (‘MCS’) to highlight the dangers of plastic pollution in our seas and oceans. With three subject matter experts providing valuable insight into their own involvement in this area, the event focused on how individuals, investors and businesses can all do their bit to make a difference.
Clearly, the extent of the plastic problem is vast, and a collective approach to solving it is needed. Chris Tuckett, Director of Programmes at MCS, put this into perspective, explaining that 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean globally every year and this number will only rise without a change in approach. During our 45 minute event alone, an estimated 1,000 tonnes of plastic entered the ocean. A staggering fact, but why is plastic entering the ocean and what does this mean for the marine environment?
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of plastic waste, including supermarket packaging, is actually collected (c.14%), with the majority burned, buried or littered on land or in oceans. When plastic enters the marine environment it doesn’t degrade or disappear, it stays there, and, worse still, can be ingested by sea creatures and carried up the food chain. Plastics can also carry chemicals and the growing magnitude of this in the marine environment is ever-increasingly becoming a human health issue through the consumption of seafood.
The Marine Conservation Society now has over two decades of evidence of plastic pollution, discovered through their UK-wide beach cleans, and they are working with business, industry and government to consider solutions. Practical initiatives like deposit return schemes are helpful but going back to the source and creating a prevention to producing plastic is key. Similarly, more holistic legislation is needed to reduce plastic at source.
However, it’s not just the plastic you can see that is causing the problem. Tiny microfibres generated primarily from washing our clothes are entering the ocean and causing irrevocable damage. With recent technological advances, there is now a more ready solution for the issue of microfibres in the shape of a simple filter, which a group of investors are currently seeking to champion.
Leading an investor engagement programme alongside 26 international investors, Will Oulton, Head of Responsible Investment at First Sentier Investment, spoke about how investors can use their rights as shareholders to combat real change. Using their collective influence, these investors are engaging with 18 of the largest manufacturers of washing machines around the world to understand what they’re doing about this problem. As stewards and owners of these companies, investors have a right to question the sustainability of companies and how that impacts their prospects and long term valuations, and as recipients of their capital, companies have a duty to listen.
This is a programme Esmé Van Herwijnen, Senior RI Analyst at EdenTree, is familiar with given EdenTree’s involvement and support from the beginning. The scale of the problem is such that different stakeholders are needed to encourage better practices and it is crucial, Esmé highlighted, that investors are part of these conversations. It is also important to send clear signals and expectations to companies, from their investors, so they can improve and be a part of the solution. Their transparency, in return, is required.
As leaders in responsible and sustainable investing, EdenTree has long considered the damaging impact of waste, including plastic, on both the environment and society. In 2018 EdenTree joined the Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance setting out asks for companies to be clear about the amount of plastic they use and encouraging them to innovate so they don’t rely on the material as much. We also published an in-depth Insight, The Waste Problem: From “Take, Make & Dispose” to a Circular Approach.
Unfortunately not enough has changed in these past three years, with the issue continuing to evolve and worsen. However, as Esmé commented, we all have more power than we think when it comes to this issue and collaboration is key to making a difference. Investors have a very important voice and we encourage anyone interested or concerned about the plastic problem to write to your investment manager and ask them what they’re doing on this issue.
As part of this event, we put together a virtual exhibition interpreting the dangers of plastic pollution for both wildlife and the human race. This, alongside the panel discussion abbreviated above, can be viewed in full here.