Plastics manufacturers have never been more united about the need to curb plastic waste than now, Dow Chemical Company CEO Jim Fitterling told CNBC on Thursday.
"Plastics are a great sustainability story. They're the most sustainable package in the world and they're the fastest-growing packaging in the world. We do have a plastic waste problem, though, and at this point in time, I've never seen the industry more aligned about tackling that problem," Fitterling told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer in an interview.
Concrete data on plastic waste levels is difficult to track, but what we do know doesn't look good. Scientists estimate that on the whole, global manufacturers have put out roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastic. In 2015, 6.3 billion metric tons of that had become plastic waste — and only 9 percent of that was recycled, a study said.
Fitterling, whose company is part of chemical conglomerate DowDuPont, said that industry leaders have been "working on a very big initiative" that will be rolled out over the next several months.
Citing recent estimates, Fitterling said that "every year, we make 400 million metric tons of plastics as an industry, all types of plastics, and they go into many different markets. We're dealing with about eight million metric tons per year that ends up as a waste problem."
In the second quarter, DowDuPont's packaging and specialty plastics division garnered $6.1 billion in net sales, up 12 percent year over year.
Fitterling acknowledged that rising aluminum costs could drive packaged goods companies to shift to plastic packaging, resulting in higher plastic production.
Even so, Fitterling, who is also chief operating officer of DowDuPont's materials science segment — the conglomerate's biggest revenue generator — stressed the need to act on the growing issue.
"It's not acceptable. We have to address it. And the good news is the industry has many solutions to do it," he told Cramer.
"They're aligned through the [American Chemistry Council], through Cefic in Europe and through our other international chemistry councils," Fitterling continued. "We're working on a joint program which can bring in our other value chain partners, bring in NGOs, bring in private money, work with governments to try to develop signature projects and solutions that are actually going to tackle this issue."
DowDuPont's stock sank on Thursday, settling down 2.24 percent at $66.44 a share. The company's earnings, issued before the bell, beat Wall Street estimates for the second quarter.
Fitterling also confirmed Dow's plans to spin off from its parent company at the end of the first quarter of 2019.