Even those firms that want to change must jump substantial hurdles. Chemical companies, particularly those that produce the fossil-fuel-based commodity chemicals such as ethanol and ammonia that make up a large chunk of the industry’s revenue, operate in a ruthlessly competitive and low-margin commercial environment. To turn a profit, they must operate at an enormous scale.
This means that changing products and processes is a capital and time-intensive process that can cost billions of dollars and take decades. Replacing polluting chemicals can mean recalibrating complex global supply chains. It’s not realistic to expect chemical companies to do this alone, and it’s wishful thinking that their shareholders would support it.
Marine chemical pollution is a systemic problem that can only be addressed by systems-level solutions. Governments, the chemical industry, retailers, investors and scientists will need to work together to find ways to transform the sector from being a source of marine pollution to a source of innovative solutions to pollution. Nothing short of a green (or blue?) chemical revolution is needed.