In 2024, companies are about to face the consequences of polluting the environment as the “polluter pays” doctrine gains new significance. A decade after the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, where over 1,000 underpaid workers lost their lives, companies like Shein, Boohoo, and Primark still produce cheap polyester clothes that end up in landfills. Plastic waste, including Coca-Cola bottles and Mars wrappers, adds up to over 350 million metric tons annually. The year 2024 is expected to bring a crackdown on fossil fuel-based waste, challenging the widespread use of plastic in various sectors, from food products to fashion.

Plastic’s popularity stems from its apparent affordability compared to more sustainable alternatives. However, when factoring in environmental costs like waste management, greenhouse gas emissions, and ecosystem damage, regular plastic is ten times more expensive. Currently, the burden of this cost, exceeding $3 trillion per year, according to the World Wildlife Fund, falls on governments and consumers rather than the companies producing the plastic. Efforts to address this issue include proposed bills in California and the European Union, suggesting that textile and fashion companies must either responsibly manage their products’ end-of-life or pay fees for waste management. This “extended producer responsibility” approach is also central to a United Nations treaty aiming to end plastic pollution by 2024. While the concept of making polluters pay is gaining traction, the financial impact on companies and investors remains to be fully understood, especially in the face of the urgent need to address climate change and environmental cleanup.