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Smoke and Mirrors

The Realities of Plastic Credits and Offsetting

Building on research published by SourceMaterial and Bloomberg with original research by Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), this report uncovers serious flaws in plastic offsets, credits and plastic neutrality. The listed projects on two of the main proponents of plastic offsetting — Verra and Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX) — were analysed to provide a snapshot of the current realities of plastic offsetting, beyond the promises and marketing.

The research shows:

Plastic credits are not only generated from recycling; in fact, only 14% of PCX’s credit-generating projects are recycling, despite recycling being the most prominent way credits are marketed.
Plastic credits are encouraging the burning of plastic — a practice that releases harmful toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases, with no environmental benefits. 86% of projects on the PCX database generate credits from burning, and 22% of projects on the Verra database will. PCX charges less for projects that send plastic waste to cement kilns than for projects that recycle.
Verra — who is lobbying for plastic credits to be a key financing mechanism in a global plastics treaty — only has one project that has sold credits. Out of the 41 projects on the Verra database as of 25th October 2023, 11 have been registered which requires third-party auditing, and three have been issued credits by Verra.
There are serious doubts about additionality — a key concept in offsetting. ‘Additionality’ is the requirement that the credits are paying for an activity that would not have happened without the credits’ financial support.
The analysis shows that eight projects, applying for a total of 1.1 million credits, have been in operation for seven years or more. So if these are approved by Verra, the projects will be credited for the period they have already been operating.
The majority of Verra projects (83%) have been in operation for more than a year, while 42% of projects will have been in operation for five years or more. This is despite Verra’s claims that finance from the sale of plastic credits can enable the development of such waste management infrastructure ‘that is otherwise not viable without the revenue from the crediting mechanism’.
By 2030, Verra’s existing projects could generate as many as 9 million credits (9,323,459), assuming all projects are approved and some projects are renewed. If each credit is sold for $500 per tonne, this would amount to a total revenue of $4.67 bn by 2030.

Smoke and Mirrors:

The Realities of Plastic Credits and Offsetting

As the world’s governments come together to negotiate a new international treaty to tackle plastic pollution across its lifecycle, it is vital that the reality of plastic offsetting is understood. A concept shrouded in smoke and mirrors should not be incentivised in a treaty designed to reduce plastic pollution.


New Report on Plastic Credit Schemes Reveals Industry ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ In The Fight Against Plastic Pollution


Media Contact:

Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead, GAIA | +1 973 444 4869 (whatsapp)

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