Mapping the Flow of the World’s Plastic Waste
The first plastic material, Bakelite, was invented in 1907. It made its way into everything you can imagine: telephones, chess pieces, Chanel jewelry, and electric guitars.
But it was in 1950 that our thirst for plastic truly began. In just 65 years, plastic production soared almost 200 times, resulting in about 6,300 million metric tons of waste today.
How does the world deal with this much debris? The truth is, a lot of plastic waste—both trash and recycled materials—is often shipped overseas to become someone else’s problem.
The Top Exporters and Importers of Plastic Waste
In honor of International Plastic Bag-Free day, today’s graphic uses data from The Guardian to uncover where the world’s plastic waste comes from, and who receives the bulk of these flows.
|Top Exporters, Jan-Nov 2018||Top Importers, Jan-Nov 2018|
|🇺🇸 United States||961,563 tons||🇲🇾 Malaysia||913,165 tons|
|🇯🇵 Japan||891,719 tons||🇹🇭 Thailand||471,724 tons|
|🇩🇪 Germany||733,756 tons||🇻🇳 Vietnam||443,615 tons|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||548,256 tons||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||398,261 tons|
The U.S. could fill up 68,000 shipping containers with its annual plastic waste exports. Put another way, 6,000 blue whales would weigh less than this nearly one million tons of waste exports.
Given the amount of plastic which ends up in our oceans, this comparison is just cause for alarm. But one interesting thing to note is that overall totals have halved since 2016:
- Top 21 total exports (Jan-Nov 2016): 11,342,439 tons
- Top 21 total exports (Jan-Nov 2018): 5,828,257 tons
- Percentage change (2016 to 2018): -49%
The world didn’t suddenly stop producing plastic waste overnight. So what caused the decline?
China Cuts Ties with International Plastic Imports
Over recent years, the trajectory of plastic exports has mimicked the movement of plastic waste into China, including the steep plummet that starts in 2018. After being the world’s dumping ground for decades, China enacted a new policy, dubbed “National Sword”, to ban foreign recyclables. The ban, which includes plastics, has left the world scrambling to find other outlets for its waste.
In response, top exporters quickly turned to other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand.
That didn’t completely stop plastic waste from seeping through, though. China previously imported 600,000 tons of plastic monthly, but since the policy only restricted 24 types of solid waste, 30,000 tons per month still entered the country post-ban, primarily from these countries:
- 🇮🇩 Indonesia: 7,000 tons per month
- 🇲🇾 Malaysia: 6,000 tons per month
- 🇺🇸 United States: 5,500 tons per month
- 🇯🇵 Japan: 4,000 tons per month
Many countries bearing the load of the world’s garbage are planning to follow in China’s footsteps and issue embargoes of their own. What does that mean for the future?
Recycle and Reuse; But Above All, Reduce
The immense amounts of plastic waste sent overseas include recycled and recyclable materials. That’s because most countries don’t have the means to manage their recycling properly, contrary to public belief. What is being done to mitigate waste in the future?
- Improve domestic recycling
Waste Management is the largest recycling company in the United States. In 2018, it put $110 million towards building more plastic recycling infrastructure.
Meanwhile, tech giant Amazon invested $10 million in a fund that creates recycling infrastructure and services in different cities.
- Reduce single-use plastics
Recycling on its own may not be enough, which is why countries are thinking bigger to cut down on “throwaway” culture.
The European Union passed a directive to ban disposable plastics and polystyrene “clamshell” containers, among other items, by 2021. More recently, California passed an ambitious bill to phase out single-use plastics by 2030.
Fact Check: The Truth Behind Five ESG Myths
ESG investing continues to break fund inflow records. In this infographic, we unpack five common ESG myths.
Fact Check: The Truth Behind 5 ESG Myths
In 2021, investors continue to embrace environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments at record levels.
In the first quarter of 2021, global ESG fund inflows outpaced the last four consecutive quarters, reaching $2 trillion. But while ESG gains rapid momentum, the CFA Institute shows that 33% of professional investors surveyed feel they have insufficient knowledge for considering ESG issues.
To help investors understand this growing trend, this infographic from MSCI helps provide a fact check on five common ESG myths.
1. “ESG Comes at the Expense of Investment Performance”
Fact Check: Not necessarily
Worldwide, ESG-focused companies have not only seen higher returns, but stronger earnings growth and dividends.
|Returns by ESG Ratings||Earnings Growth*||Active Return**||Dividends and Buybacks|
Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC (Dec, 2020)
*Contribution of earnings growth and dividends/buybacks to active return
**Active return is the additional gain or loss compared to it respective benchmark
In fact, a separate study from the CFA Institute shows that 35% of investment professionals invest in ESG to improve their financial returns.
2. “Investors Talk About ESG But Don’t Invest In It”
Fact Check: False
Global ESG assets under management (AUM) in ETFs have grown from $6 billion in 2015 to $150 billion in 2020. In just five years, ESG AUM have accelerated 25 times.
Today, money managers are focusing on the following top five issues:
|Top ESG Issues||Assets Affected||Growth in Assets Affected (2018-2020)|
|Climate change / carbon emissions||$4.18T||39%|
|Sustainable natural resources / agriculture||$2.38T||81%|
Source: US SIF Foundation (Nov, 2020)
Meanwhile, over 1,500 shareholder resolutions focused on ESG-related matters were filed between 2018-2020. Not only are investors turning to ESG assets, but they are placing higher demands on corporate responsibility.
3. “ESG Investment Strategies Eliminate Entire Sectors”
Fact Check: Not necessarily
First, not all ESG investment approaches are exclusionary.
For instance, in North America roughly 51% of ESG ETFs used an ESG integration approach as of Dec. 31, 2020. In an ESG integration approach, ESG risks and opportunities are analyzed with the goal to support long-term returns.
By comparison, values and screens approaches, which accounted for over 22% of ESG ETFs in North America may screen out specific business activities, such as alcohol or tobacco, or sectors such as oil & gas.
|Percentage of ESG Type||Integration||Values & Screens||Thematic||Impact|
Source: Refinitiv/Lipper and MSCI ESG Research LLC as of Dec 31, 2020 (MSCI Feb, 2021)
Second, companies are assessed on a sector-specific basis where ESG leaders and laggards are identified within each sector in comparison to peers. In other words, ESG doesn’t mean eliminating exposure to entire sectors. Instead, investors can choose from a range of companies based on their ESG ratings quality.
4. “ESG Investing Is Only For Millennials”
Fact Check: False
Although ESG is popular among millennials, ESG investing is being driven by the entire investor population. In 2019, one study finds that 85% of the general population expressed interest in ESG investing.
|Interest in Sustainable Investing||General Population||Millennials|
Source: US SIF Foundation (Nov, 2020)
Sustainable investing goes far beyond millennials—ESG disclosures are quickly becoming requirements for key industry participants, such as institutional investors and listed companies.
5. “ESG Investing is Here to Stay”
Fact Check: True
Climbing 28% in 2020 alone, over 3,000 signatories have committed to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. As of the first quarter of 2021, 313 global organizations and 33 asset owners have been newly added.
|Growth of UN PRI||Number of Signatories*||AUM Represented|
Source: UN PRI
*As of Mar, 2020
Central to ESG’s growth is the availability of ESG investments. ESG investing has become more widely accessible—which wasn’t always the case. Over the last decade, the global number of ESG ETFs has grown from 46 to 497.
Why the Facts Matter
As ESG investments continue to play an even greater role in investor portfolios, it’s important to focus on data rather than prevailing ESG myths that are not backed by fact.
Given the recent momentum in investment returns and ESG adoption, data-driven evidence empowers investors to build more sustainable portfolios that better align with their investment objectives.
Visualizing the Depth of the Great Lakes
The five Great Lakes account for 21% of the world’s total freshwater. This bathymetric visualization dives into just how deep they are.
Visualized: The Depth of The Great Lakes
Click here to view the interactive version of the visualization on Tableau.
As the seasons change, it’s natural to want to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest. The Great Lakes, a distinct geographical region sandwiched between the U.S. and Canada, provides immense opportunity for millions of tourists to do just that every year.
But did you know that altogether the Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s surface freshwater by volume—or 84% of the surface freshwater in North America?
This bathymetric visualization, created by Alex Varlamov, helps put the sheer size and depth of all five of the Great Lakes into perspective.
What is Bathymetry?
Bathymetry is the study of the underwater depth of ocean or lake floors, a geographical science that falls under the wider umbrella of hydrography.
In essence, it is the underwater equivalent of topography. Contour lines help to represent and study the physical features of bodies of water, from oceans to lakes.
Most bathymetric studies are conducted via sonar systems, transmitting pulses that ‘ping’ off the ocean and lake floor, uncovering what lies below.
The Depth of the Great Lakes, Compared
High on the list of the world’s largest lakes, the five Great Lakes altogether account for over 244,700 km² (94,250 mi²) in total surface area. That’s bigger than the entire United Kingdom.
Lake Superior emerges, well, superior in terms of total surface area, water volume, and both average and maximum depth.
|Surface area||Water volume||Average depth||Maximum depth|
|Lake Ontario||19,000 km²|
|Lake Erie||25,700 km²|
|Lake Michigan||58,000 km²|
|Lake Huron||60,000 km²|
|Lake Superior||82,000 km²|
Lake Erie is by far the shallowest of the lakes, with an average depth of just 19 meters (62 ft). That means on average, Lake Superior is about eight times deeper.
With that in mind, one drawback of the visualization is that it doesn’t provide an accurate view of how deep these lakes are in relation to one another.
For that, check out this additional visualization also created by Alex Varlamov, which is scaled to the same 20 meter step—in this view, Lake Erie practically disappears.
More than Meets the Eye
The Great Lakes are not only notable for their form, but also their function—they’re a crucial waterway contributing to the economy of the area, supporting over 50 million jobs and contributing $6 trillion to gross domestic product (GDP).
Together, the five Great Lakes feed into the Atlantic Ocean—and when we expand the scope to compare these lakes to vast oceans, trenches, and drill holes, the depth of the Great Lakes barely scratches the surface.
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