top of page

Companies Are Claiming To Be ‘Plastic Neutral’. Is It Greenwashing?

Companies are claiming to be ‘plastic neutral’ by using ‘plastic credits’ to offset the plastic pollution they create. This model follows the use of carbon credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Companies claim plastic neutrality to appear environmentally friendly, whilst avoiding scrutiny for the plastic pollution they create.

What are plastic credits?

Companies buy plastic credits to fund plastic waste clean-ups around the world. A credit usually represents one ton of plastic removed from the environment. Companies purchase these credits from crediting companies to fund a clean-up project that would not have happened otherwise.

Companies claim plastic neutrality if they have used credits to clean-up as much waste as they produce. So for every piece of plastic produced by the company, an equal weight will be removed from the natural environment elsewhere. 

Why do companies buy plastic credits?

Companies may feel a moral duty to fund a solution to the plastic problem they helped create, according to Peter Hjemdahl, co-founder of the plastic crediting initiative Repurpose Global. In some countries, companies may also be obligated to comply with extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws and manage their waste impact.

However, a key motivating factor in the purchase of plastic credits is their marketing value. The use of terms such as ‘plastic neutrality’ make a brand more desirable to the eco-conscious consumer. Many plastic crediting organisations such as Repurpose Global and PCX advertise how companies can use credits to make green marketing claims.

Can plastic credits lead to plastic neutrality?

There are a number of problems with claims of plastic neutrality. A company might be releasing very harmful plastic into the environment whilst funding a clean-up of relatively less harmful plastic.

Another concern is how to prove that a clean-up project would not have happened anyway without company funding. For example, an unconnected group of volunteers might have done the plastic beach clean-up instead. A company cannot then claim to have collected ‘additional’ neutralising plastic.

There are numerous issues around how to meaningfully claim neutrality under a credit system run by a complex network of privately run organisations. There are currently no globally agreed standards.

Crucially, the whole credit system is based on the idea that one can be plastic neutral through waste collection alone. However, the plastic problem is not just a waste collection problem.

From fossil fuel based plastic production to distribution and incineration there is harm at every stage. Worryingly, much of the plastic collected through credits ends up in landfill or is burned, releasing toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases. Clean-ups alone cannot neutralise the plastic problem.

Is plastic neutrality just greenwashing?

To continue to make profits, companies use greenwashing  tactics. They overstate the green credentials of their products to appeal to consumers. For example, companies use offsetting language like ‘plastic neutral’ and ‘net zero plastic to nature’. The real source of the problem, excessive plastic production, is obscured to the public.

Irresponsible companies use plastic waste management projects to justify further plastic production. This focus on clean-ups aligns with the greenwashing strategy of both plastic-producing petrochemical companies and oil-producing nations.

What needs to be done?

It is essential to ensure that companies provide clear labelling which does not mislead the consumer with terms like ‘plastic neutral’.

The Plastic Footprint Network hopes to create a common set of standards in the crediting system.

Even with these improvements, credits still represent a waste management solution to the plastic problem. Greenwashing companies fund clean-up projects, whilst producing and using more and more plastic. Plastic production is set to triple by 2060.  It is futile to focus on waste management without prioritising a significant reduction in unnecessary plastic.


For more information contact:


Discarded plastic bottles - Image by mbeo (ST ref: 1299)`

WWF guide to greenwashing - from WWF (ST ref: 1302)

Greenwashing one to ten - Image from (ST ref: 1295)

Greenwashing synonyms - Image from (ST ref: 1297)


bottom of page