Sustainable investing Single-use plastics: The last straw

Big brands are doing away with plastic straws

by UBS Editorial Team 01 Nov 2018

If current pollution rates continue, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated. (UBS)

As much as eight million tons of bottles and plastic waste fill the oceans each year, killing marine life and entering the food chain. If current pollution rates continue, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, the United Nations Environment Programme has estimated.

In a move that the United Nations says is the most ambitious effort yet to fight plastic pollution, nearly 300 organizations say they will not be using single-use plastics and will invest in technology so that all packaging can be recycled by 2025.

This pact is powerful because signatories include companies representing 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally. They are the world's biggest packaging producers, leading consumer brands, retailers and recyclers, as well as governments and NGOs.

There are other initiatives by governments and corporations too.

Last week, the European Parliament voted to completely ban single-use plastic items, including straws and cutlery, by 2021. This week, the UK government said it will introduce a new tax on single-use plastics.

In Asia, the government in Hong Kong will stop providing plastic straws and foam lunchboxes at all government canteens from early 2019.

Meanwhile, US coffee giant Starbucks has pledged to phase out plastic straws by 2020.

What can investors do?

On a personal investment level, there are actions that concerned investors can take as well. Sustainable Investing allows for positive social and environmental change while still generating a potential return. It integrates societal concerns, personal values or an institutional mission into investment decisions.

When it comes to investing in equities that target specific environmental, social or governance factors, investors have a wide range of approaches:

  • An ESG engagement equities approach (PDF, 765 KB) provides exposure to equities of companies that would benefit from specific identifiable environmental, social and governance (ESG) improvements, with the investor proactively lobbying and working with company management to drive positive outcomes.
  • An ESG thematic approach (PDF, 994 KB) invests in the equities of companies that stand to benefit from specific themes related to environmental, social or governance (ESG) factors.
  • An ESG improvers approach (PDF, 449 KB) provides exposure to companies that are demonstrating improving performance in employing strategies to minimize environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, as well as take advantage of ESG opportunities, and that their momentum in this area is expected to continue.
  • An ESG leaders approach (PDF, 541 KB) invests in the equities of companies that are more successful than competitors in recognizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges in their industry and employing strategies to minimize risks, as well as take advantage of opportunities that arise from them.

Main contributors: Jean Chua, Wendy Mock