The Role of CDP Disclosure in Solving the Plastics Pollution Problem
The plastics pollution crisis has long been one of the most visible sustainability issues of our times, and yet the efforts to address it, while numerous, have remained mostly siloed. Governments, institutions, consumers, NGOs, scientists, corporations, investors, and organizations like ClimeCo are working to solve different aspects of this multi-fold, complex issue. Still, the call for cohesive and collaborative action is finally getting louder, and efforts to unite various stakeholders, become aligned, and work towards a common goal.
The latest shot in the arm towards this shift is CDP’s (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) foray into plastics disclosure.
If growth in single-use plastic production continues at current rates, it will account for 5 – 10% of global emissions by 2050.
CDP’s Growing Influence
CDP manages a global disclosure system that companies, investors, cities, states, and regions use to engage with environmental issues. Companies and investors use the CDP system rather effectively to share key information on metrics, strategies, risks, and opportunities that are either hard to glean from sustainability reports, hard to distinguish from greenwashing claims, or difficult to compare or act upon meaningfully.
CDP’s disclosure modules on climate change, water security, and forests standardized how and what data is gathered to be useful for investors and shareholders. The annual disclosure cycle means continuous engagement between CDP, companies, and investors, who can collectively push the needle toward attaining sustainability goals.
CDP has grown into a tour de force. As of 2023, a whopping 18,700 companies  have been requested to disclose data to CDP by over 740 investors with more than $136 trillion in assets. Over 340 major buyers, with a purchasing power of $6.4 trillion, have asked their suppliers to disclose through CDP. In short, if you were a company that received a disclosure request from CDP, you get your ducks in a row and buckle up for the ride!
CDP’s Foray Into Plastics
In 2023, CDP announced the introduction of its Plastics Module. Recognizing the scale and complexity of the plastics problem and its successful role in shaping the climate change movement, this is CDP’s attempt to bring similar standardization, rigor, and engagement to the plastics crisis.
In its inaugural year, CDP has included the Plastics Module within its existing water security questionnaire, recognizing the threats posed by plastic pollution to water systems. In the future, as disclosures improve, companies’ practices mature, and the engagement around plastics deepens, CDP is likely to carve off plastics disclosures as its standalone topic with an independent questionnaire.
Around 7,000 companies have been requested to respond to the CDP Plastics module in 2023. According to a recent CDP consultation, 81% of responding capital markets and supply chain members said that the information requested by CDP on plastics would be useful in informing financial or procurement decisions .
Companies face $100 billion annual financial risk if governments require them to cover waste management costs at expected volumes and recyclability.
Key Points on CDP Plastic Disclosure
– Plastics-related questions are included in the water security questionnaire
– The Plastics Module contains 5-9 questions about a company’s plastics-related environmental impacts
– In 2023, responses to the plastics questions are not scored (this will change in the future)
– CDP’s questions build on existing frameworks and best practices, including work carried out by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UNEP’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, the PEW Charitable Trusts, and the Minderoo Foundation
What Questions are CDP Asking About Plastics?
CDP is asking for information from all companies that use, produce, or commercialize plastics, covering the entirety of their value chain, including plastics waste management, reprocessing, and disposal.
Within the water security questionnaire, Module W.10 contains 5-9 plastics-related questions covering a range of topics around the reporting company’s practices around plastic use and plastic production. CDP provides a useful mapping of the questions, reproduced below:
How to Approach CDP Plastics Disclosure
Disclosure, while cumbersome and time-consuming, is valuable for any reporting company. Disclosure, done right:
– Aligns the company’s intentions with its implementation plans
– Shines a light on risks the company may not have considered yet and opportunities the company may have yet to discover, both of which are material to its investors
Whether or not your business is among the 7000 early CDP Plastics respondents, plastics disclosure will likely be on the cards soon for most companies. Plastics is soon to be a material disclosure area for your company, especially if you operate in the following sectors: apparel, biotech/healthcare/pharmaceutical, chemical, food/beverage/agriculture, fossil fuel, hospitality, infrastructure, manufacturing, material, mineral extraction, power generation, retail or transportation services (see CDP’s guidance on how plastic is material to these sectors).
We recommend taking a proactive approach to plastics disclosure. While it remains an unscored module at CDP, this presents an excellent low-risk opportunity for companies to begin disclosures and establish processes and policies for future-focused improved disclosures.
Here are some valuable resources to get started:
To learn more, contact our Plastics and CDP Reporting experts at https://climeco.com/contact-us/.
About the Authors
Leticia Socal is a chemist and seasoned plastic industry professional with over 15 years of experience spanning R&D, intellectual property, market research & strategy. Leticia is a certified TRUE Zero Waste advisor and a Blue Consultant. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Chemistry, a Master of Science in Materials Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science.
Preeti Shanker is a lawyer-turned-sustainability consultant with over 12 years of industry experience. Preeti has worked with clients from a variety of sectors including manufacturing, pharma, technology and financial services to develop the companies’ ESG and climate strategies and hone their ESG reporting, communications and disclosures, including CDP disclosures She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law and a Master’s degree in Sustainability Management.