Significant Oil’s flagship plastic waste job sinks on the Ganges

SINGAPORE/VARANASI, India (Reuters) – A wheelbarrow and a handful of metal grids for capturing litter,

SINGAPORE/VARANASI, India (Reuters) – A wheelbarrow and a handful of metal grids for capturing litter, emblazoned with the terms “Renew Oceans,” sit rusting outside an empty, padlocked office in the Indian city of Varanasi, a brief stroll from the Ganges.

Litter traps are witnessed outdoors the locked office of Renew Oceans in Varanasi, in the northern point out of Uttar Pradesh, India, December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Saurabh Sharma

It is all that is still left of a programme, funded by some of the world’s biggest oil and chemical providers, that they stated could remedy a runaway ocean plastic squander crisis which is killing marine lifetime – from plankton to whales – and clogging tropical beach locations and coral reefs.

The closure of Renew Oceans, which has not formerly been noted, is a indication that an market whose financial long run is tied to the growth of plastic production is falling shorter of its targets to control the resulting boost in squander, in accordance to two environmental teams.

The Alliance to Finish Plastic Waste, a Singapore-dependent nonprofit group set up two a long time ago by big oil and chemical businesses, claimed on its web site in November 2019 that its partnership with Renew Oceans would be expanded to the world’s most-polluted rivers and “ultimately could cease the stream of plastic into the planet’s ocean.”

Exxon Mobil Corp, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Dow Inc, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co and about 50 other businesses committed to expend $1.5 billion about five years on the Alliance and its projects. The Alliance has not mentioned publicly how substantially money it has elevated from its members or what it has expended total.

The Alliance confirmed to Reuters that Renew Oceans had stopped functioning, partly because of to the new coronavirus, which had halted some get the job done.

“Without any foreseeable time frame for restarting, mixed with other implementation difficulties, the Alliance and Renew Oceans jointly made the decision to a mutual termination arrangement in Oct 2020,” Alliance spokeswoman Jessica Lee told Reuters.

Anne Rosenthal, counsel at U.S. legislation company Hurwit & Associates, representing Renew Oceans, also claimed it expects the job to fold. “While it has designed important progress in tackling the challenge of plastic squander, the business has appear to the summary that it just does not have the ability to perform at the scale this challenge justifies,” she reported.

The Alliance, with a employees of about 50, mainly centered in Singapore, has other tasks in the pipeline, but they are compact, group-dependent endeavours or have not however come to fruition. “It is crucial to take note that the comprehensive affect of tasks will be realised when their operations are at entire scale,” reported Lee.

Renew Oceans printed targets on its web-site to gather 45 tonnes of plastic trash from the Ganges in 2019 and 450 tonnes in 2020. Neither the Alliance nor Renew Oceans has posted any data on their progress in achieving those targets. Four people today involved in the challenge informed Reuters it collected a lot less than a person tonne of squander from the Ganges in advance of it closed in March previous 12 months immediately after considerably less than six months in operation.

The Alliance and Renew Oceans declined remark on the volume of squander the project gathered. Scientists estimate far more than 50 % a million tonnes of plastic trash enters the Ganges each and every 12 months. There is no governing administration details on how considerably of that is gathered.


At the start event for the Alliance in January 2019, stay-streamed by Nationwide Geographic, Dow Chief Government Jim Fitterling stated Renew Oceans was “one of the finest jobs we have obtained.”

The Alliance and Renew Oceans said they would deploy point out-of-the-artwork technological innovation to obtain and recycle plastic squander, like “reverse vending machines” that just take in plastic litter and give out vouchers for income off taxi rides and groceries, and pyrolysis equipment to convert plastic trash into diesel.

Prototypes of people products were being deployed in Varanasi but routinely malfunctioned, the four individuals included in the job informed Reuters. The Alliance and Renew Oceans declined remark on the effectiveness of the know-how.

Renew Oceans has not expanded functions beyond the pilot project in Varanasi, the Alliance stated, in response to Reuters’ concerns. Renew Oceans declined remark.

The Alliance mentioned it invested $5 million in Renew Oceans more than a two-yr period. It stated some of that experienced been returned to the Alliance and a lot more was predicted to be returned as soon as Renew Oceans wound down its functions.

Exxon and Shell directed Reuters’ thoughts to the Alliance. Dow and Chevron Phillips did not react to requests for comment.

The Alliance established a goal “to divert millions of tons of plastic waste in additional than 100 at-threat cities throughout the globe” around five several years. So much the team has introduced much more than a dozen programmes, such as Renew Oceans, but is considerably quick of that purpose.

In two decades, only three little-scale tasks funded by the Alliance, which include Renew Oceans, have gathered any squander, according to data published by the Alliance and its partners. A cleanse-up exertion in Ghana has collected 300 tonnes of plastic waste, the Alliance explained. Another Alliance job in the Philippines mentioned on its web site it experienced recycled 21 tonnes of plastic waste.

There is no centralized resource for details on plastic squander pollution throughout the globe. But the data that is available suggests that even at full scale, individuals tasks would only deal with a fraction of the trouble and even now drop effectively shorter of the Alliance’s very own targets of holding millions of tonnes of plastic rubbish out of the ocean.

For occasion, Indonesia and India each make much more than 3 million tonnes of plastic squander a yr that is not gathered or recycled, in accordance to United Nations and countrywide figures.

“AEPW’s systems are trivial in scale and not replicable to make a serious reduction in the large volume of global plastic pollution,” reported Jan Dell, an impartial chemical engineer, using the Alliance’s acronym.

The plastics sector has been publicising its attempts to recycle and regulate plastic squander, but it is expending vastly a lot more on increasing creation than recycling, which has been rendered uneconomic by the proliferation of affordable new plastic, Reuters documented in Oct.

Chevron Phillips made use of footage of Renew Oceans’ staff amassing plastic on the Ganges in a online video selling its sustainability efforts in July, even however the undertaking had stopped functions in March.

“These are some of the richest and most impressive corporations on the planet, and what they’ve arrive up with are some modest, neighborhood litter selecting initiatives that make for good photograph opportunities,” claimed John Hocevar, Ocean Campaigns Director, Greenpeace United states of america. “There is no way to decrease plastic waste without having cutting down plastic production.”

Chevron Phillips did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Joe Brock and John Geddie in Singapore, Saurabh Sharma in Varanasi Extra reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore Enhancing by Monthly bill Rigby