Inside Big Plastic’s Faltering $1.5 Billion Global Cleanup Effort

Photo source: Bloomberg

Almost four years since the Alliance to End Plastic Waste launched, its on-the-ground recycling is negligible compared to the new plastic produced by its core members, petrochemical companies.


In May 2021, a container ship called the X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka and then sank into the Indian Ocean. The vessel was carrying billions of tiny plastic pellets called nurdles, which began washing up along Sri Lanka’s western shore. The United Nations called it the largest plastic spill in history.

The size and shape of lentils, nurdles are the raw material used to make many plastic products, from sandwich wrappers to water bottles. After the spill, scientists worried that sea creatures would mistake the pellets for food, and Sri Lanka’s government imposed a fishing ban that damaged livelihoods up and down the coast. Meanwhile, it began an ambitious effort to clean up almost 150 miles of shoreline.


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