The Platform


While Adidas, Nudie Jeans, and Patagonia have shown some concern about the planet’s health, ExxonMobil, Dow, and Sinopec are willing to burn the place down to make their shareholders happy.

Global corporate environmental liability runs on direct regulations and is based on three steps of a product’s life. The first is the product stage, the second is ethical and sustainable processes, and the final step are carbon taxes on the waste produced in the making of the product. This system has been widely accepted to reduce waste generation by companies around the world. However, even then, the equivalent of one truckload of plastic enters the ocean every minute.

It is widely accepted that this system has not accomplished its objective. A report from the Minderoo Foundation shows that the top 100 corporations account for more than 90% of the world’s single-use plastic waste, with 20 companies accounting for 55%. Although the current model has made significant progress, there is still room for significant improvement, and there is a need for additional regulations.

The problem of attribution is linked to a concept known as the science of attribution. This concept discusses using scientific evidence to attribute damage to a particular event. ExxonMobil is at the top of what the Minderoo Foundation refers to as its Plastic Waste Makers Index, followed by Dow Chemical, and China’s Sinopec. According to the study, ExxonMobil, Dow, and Sinopec, are collectively responsible for 16% of all single-use plastics waste. This is the first time that all that plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean or sitting in landfills has been mapped and traced to a point of origin. This tracing has solved one of the biggest issues in environmental laws, one of attribution.

For the most part, consumers control what happens to a product after production. However, placing the burden of recycling entirely on the consumer is not an effective strategy, especially when tossing something away seems like the easiest and most convenient option. More and more governments should investigate sustainability as opposed to just price and performance when choosing what products to sell or which processes to follow while making those products.

This is not a new-fangled theory. Some retailers and manufacturers in the apparel, and electronics sectors have launched programs to make their customers interested in preserving their products and preventing things that still have value from going to a landfill.

For instance, Swedish denim retailer Nudie Jeans provides complimentary denim repair. Customers bring in their old, worn-out jeans to be rejuvenated rather than throwing them away. This same philosophy is adhered to by high-end outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia. It has teamed up with the DIY website iFixit to show people how to fix their clothing, like waterproofing outerwear. Patagonia also provides a repair programme for a small fee.

Since 2012, Adidas has operated a shoe recycling programme in Brazil. Customers can bring any brand of shoes into a shop where Adidas will shred them into alternative fuels and raw materials, which will then be used to create energy instead of ending up in landfills and trash incinerators.

Last but not least, over the past few years, major electronics retailers like Best Buy and Samsung have offered e-waste programmes with the goal of repurposing old electronic components into new products. These are just a few instances, but they show how assisting customers in making better use of their materials can alter value chains and waste production. However, most significantly, governments play an integral part in establishing a circular economy, where value is generated less through resource extraction and more through better utilisation of the resources already available. However, governments must also make tough choices to involve corporations in the process. Regulations on this post-production stage are needed, as to what they might be, is a matter of academic debate.

Leaving normative tenability aside, it is undeniable that a paradigm shift toward a company’s post-production liability is necessary. The analogy with attribution is helpful because problems with causation have tainted the contemporary geo-environmental paradigm. With this new economic environmental viewpoint, the actions of the companies merit a serious examination. Manufacturers, financiers, and institutions will need to make significant adjustments in order to resolve the problem.

Against this backdrop, the permissibility of pre-emptive measures before the situation blows up into grave conflict is also an issue to mull over. Whether the imposition of ad valorem taxes can be justified on this line of reasoning is a difficult question to answer. This must be done to prevent a hornet’s nest. Although consumer pressure is important, corporations, institutions, and governments must take the initiative.

Shobhit Shukla is a 4th year Law Student at Maharashtra National Law University in Mumbai.