Green washing alert
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SabiC, it's your mess we are cleaning up

Written by Arthur Bribosia and Ezekiel Stevents

Posted on September 18 2020

Design by Elisa de la Serna

You might have heard that this Saturday 19th is the ‘Global Clean Up Day’. Millions of people around the world will come together to clean up streets, parks, forests, beaches, and other areas where humans manage to dump their rubbish. It’s a great and much-needed initiative, and wherever you find yourself, you should definitely take part! In Maastricht, the clean-up is organized by Maas Clean Up: a group of companies mobilizing other businesses as well as civilians and activists, volunteers and policy makers to clean up the region.

And that is where the initiative becomes problematic. One of the 9 founding partners of Maas Clean Up is Sabic. Sabic is a petrochemical company whose European headquarters are situated just north of Maastricht in Sittard. Sabic is the world’s third-largest producer of polyethylene (plastic bags, laundry detergent bottles, bottle caps) and the fourth-largest producer of polypropylene (single use food wrappings, plastic straws)[1]. But it gets worse: last June, Sabic was acquired by the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco[2].

So, to recap: one of the main producers of plastic products, who probably produced much of the plastic we will pick up on Saturday and who now belongs to the largest oil company in the world is mobilizing us and telling us that together, we can preserve and take care of nature.

This is not okay. Is littering bad? Yes! Should we come together and clean up? Definitely! Should we do this together with multinationals? Maybe, but only if they actively work towards producing less plastic waste. We need to turn off the tap, not just mop the floor one day a year.
We need to turn off the tap, not just mop the floor one day a year.

In light of the recent merger with Saudi Aramco, turning off the tap or even reducing its flow does not seem to be on the agenda, quite the contrary. While Sabic has made major strides in the innovation of chemical recycling of plastic, making a circular economy of plastic a realistic possibility, its new owner has other interests at heart. In fact, Saudi Aramco and other fossil fuel companies plan to spend about €340bn to increase the world supply of virgin (new) plastics by 25% over the next five years [3]. This investment strategy aims to compensate for the drop in crude oil demand resulting from the transition towards clean energies.

Saudi Aramco and other fossil fuel companies plan to spend about €340bn to increase the world supply of virgin (new) plastics by 25% over the next five years.

To summarize, plastic is becoming an increasingly important channel for fossil fuel companies to sell us their oil – and this global cleanup is but one strategy used by polluting companies to shift the blame back to the consumer and portray themselves as the solution. As activists and involved citizens, it is important to remain critical of these initiatives and the motivations behind them, while ensuring we keep our city clean and plastic free. We do need to clean up, but we also need policies to halt the production of new plastics. The Maastricht Climate Coalition has formulated 8 specific demands towards the municipality that aim to guide Maastricht towards climate justice. One of these demands is a ban on single use plastic. Because besides cleaning up, we mostly need to turn off the tap.

So Sabic, thanks but no thanks – clean up your own business first.

Sources

 

[1] https://chemicalparks.eu/companies/sabic

[2] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/energysource/rapid-response-the-sabic-aramco-merger/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/04/war-on-plastic-could-strand-oil-industrys-300bn-investment

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