Last year, as the pandemic magnified economic and social inequality, another of our planet’s most urgent sustainability problems persisted: Plastic pollution. According to University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck, if all the plastic waste generated in 2020 could be melted down, it could pave a road 30 feet wide and more than 2 inches thick all the way to the moon.
In the face of this challenge, Morgan Stanley has continued advancing scalable solutions as part of its Plastic Waste Resolution, a pledge we made in 2019 to help facilitate the prevention, reduction and removal of 50 million metric tons of plastic waste from rivers, oceans, landscapes and landfills by 2030. Through the end of 2020, the firm reached more than 5 million metrics tons of this overall goal, by mobilizing commercial solutions, engaging in key partnerships and reducing plastic in our own operations.
“The progress we’ve made since launching the Resolution reflects a growing demand across the plastic value chain for solutions to the challenges of plastic waste,” said Audrey Choi, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. “I'm optimistic that we can help drive systemic change through our continued financing and investment activities.”
The Plastic Waste Resolution is just one touchpoint in the firm’s decade-long work on sustainable finance and investing. Led by our Global Sustainable Finance group, created in 2009, Morgan Stanley has integrated sustainability into all of its core businesses.
Financing Plastic Waste Solutions
One key to the firm’s plastic waste campaign has been leveraging our role in capital markets to facilitate innovative financing. For example, our Global Capital Markets team underwrote $65 billion green, sustainability and blue bonds in 2020, which raise funds for environmental projects, including those that target plastic recovery and recycling.
In addition, the firm last year served as the joint booker runner for Coca-Cola FEMSA’s $705 million green bond—the largest ever for a Latin American corporation—which will help the company meet its plastics commitments, including its goal of using 50% recycled polyethylene terephthalate in its bottles. Morgan Stanley was also the green structuring agent for apparel and footwear company VF Corporation’s €500 million ($547 million) green bond, which helps fund its purchase of fabric containing at least 50% recycled-content nylon and polyester, among other projects. Last year, the firm also served as capital markets advisor to Live Oak Acquisition Corporation on its business combination with Danimer Scientific, a creator of materials that help make plastic products biodegradable and compostable.
And this year, Morgan Stanley partnered with Solactive and ISS ESG—the responsible investment arm of Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., which provides environmental, social, and governance solutions for investors—on a publicly listed index of global companies leading on the innovation and implementation of plastic waste solutions and efficient materials use. Based on underlying methodology developed by Morgan Stanley, the Solactive ISS ESG Future of Plastic Index equips investors with a benchmark index of companies with leading practices and activities addressing plastic waste.
Partnering on Plastic Waste Solutions
Scaling solutions to the plastic waste problem also requires new research and development efforts across industries, universities, nonprofits and the public sector, so our alliances with educational and non-profit institutions to facilitate research, systems design and collective action are another key aspect of the firm’s Plastic Waste Resolution.
On the research and capacity building side, the firm continued its Plastic Waste Reduction Fellowship and Graduate Research with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. Fellows published a systems analysis framework showing U.S. flows of plastic, starting with materials production and tracking through product manufacturing, use and end-of-life management. The framework is a guide that aims to help accelerate technology and market-based solutions.
And our ongoing partnership with the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and National Geographic has helped evolve and advance the Debris Tracker, a mobile app introduced in 2010 that allows people all over the world to log pollution that they encounter. Last year, app users logged more than 875,000 items of litter, with data collected in 34 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. Approximately 66% of items logged were plastic, with plastic and foam fragments, cigarette butts and plastic food wrappers as the items found most often.1
Morgan Stanley also expanded its engagement with key players in the global effort to reduce plastic waste. As a member of the Global Plastic Action Partnership, part of the World Economic Forum, Morgan Stanley is partnering with governments, businesses and citizen groups to transform commitments on plastic pollution reduction into concrete action at national and global levels.
Cleaning Our Own House
Across Morgan Stanley’s global operations, the firm also made significant progress last year on the reduction of single-use plastic in our facilities by 2024. We’re 88% of the way toward that goal. Central to that success have been countless global employee awareness and engagement events, educating our people on the use and targeted reduction of plastics in our operations, the idea of the circular economy and the role of environmental, social and governance considerations in supply chains.
Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do if we hope to effect real plastic waste reduction. And, without a doubt, the scale of the problem requires scalable solutions. As a firm, we’re committed to this work, to reaching our own goals and facilitating innovation and systemic solutions across markets in partnership with both private and public partners at every point in the plastics value chain.