January 23, 2019 / Research

Will investors be hit by a waste war?

By Joe McGrath, ESG Clarity

Investors are considering the potential for a 'waste trade war' as countries ban single use plastics

Will investors be hit by a waste war?

The UK could impose a ban on single-use plastics as early as 2019, MSCI research has suggested, as major plastic-waste exporting countries, move to curb their waste production.

European counterparts are set to follow suit, with the European Parliament having already agreed to ban single-use plastics by 2021, in a vote at the end of last year.

Authors of the report, Linda-Eling Lee, MSCI’s global head of ESG research and Matt Moscardi, the company’s executive director, said: “We anticipate this disruption will change the global regulatory landscape, forcing companies to grapple with waste reduction not as a marketing priority but a significant business challenge.

“Why do we think this will happen now? Because China exited the thriving global trade in waste.”

Historically, countries that could not efficiently handle their own waste would export it to other countries around the world and pay a fee for the privilege. The MSCI report suggests that China and Hong Kong were imported around 70% of the world’s annual waste since 1992.

The report entitled ESG Trends to Watch indicates that despite the huge increase in investor scrutiny, very few companies have formal commitments to reduce plastic waste. But things are changing.

In 2018, shareholder calls that mentioned “plastic waste” increased by 340% compared with 2017, but only 30% of the industry constituents in the MSCI All Country World Index has declared a formal commitment to reduce or phase out plastic waste.

“While all eyes remain on the trade war between the US and China, another global trade war, in waste, is beginning to unfold,” the MSCI report suggests.

“How the world addresses the disruption it creates will have ripple effects across multiple industries and countries, ripping the issue from the pages of glossy sustainability reports and thrusting it into investor presentations and financial filings as a subject of business risks and opportunities. In 2019, we anticipate seeing a globalised world forced to look locally for solutions on how to deal with waste.”