by Josh Butler
23 June 2018
"The profits of the future come from the first movers."
It's not often you hear millionaires getting excited about plastic.
Venture capitalist Mark Carnegie, a veteran investor on several continents, wants Australia to take big action on the issue of recycling plastic, and he's prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
"It's bad enough to be really really focusing on it, and yet nobody is," he said.
At the recent G7 meeting, best-known for that infamous photo of Donald Trump, five of the seven nations signed a charter on cleaning rubbish from oceans, the Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities and a supplementary Ocean Plastics Charter. The documents committed the nations to "a more resource efficient and sustainable management of plastics", including sustainable design, research into more environmentally-friendly designs, and plans to clean rubbish from the sea.
Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom signed up, but the United States and Japan did not.
Carnegie has started a social media campaign, pushing for the Australian government to commit to action on plastics. He is a lifelong fisherman, so has purely environmental considerations -- but also in play is an economic angle.
Carnegie said investors, such as himself, would be very keen to support and finance big plastic projects, but need more direction and certainty in the form of government policy before they would commit cash to cleaning up oceans.
"I'm trying to get a debate started about what were gonna do about changes in the plastics industry in Australia," he told ABC's National Wrap program.
"As a consequence of the G7 signing this charter... things are going to change and there will be economic winners and losers in this situation, and we need to work out what we're going to do to respond."
In a social media video, Carnegie spoke of the economic case for addressing plastics.
In later posts, he said "the sooner we sign up the sooner I can see if I can make money and do some good as well".
"I’m an investor I want to make money, I can’t till the policy settings allow me to."
Carnegie's campaign began the same week plastic bags were pulled from stores of supermarket giant Woolworths.
Carnegie told ten daily he wanted to see the Australian government commit to action on plastics, following the lead of the G7.
"Recently we have seen global events of huge consequence, such as the decision by China to restrict foreign waste and the recent G7 joint agreement, not getting the attention it should in Australia," he said.
"I’m trying to do my bit to create a debate around plastic with a particular focus on the economic, as well as environmental, opportunities."
On National Wrap, he said it would be an economic win for Australia to adopt new policies and embrace innovation at an early stage.
"We're certainly not trying to get on the front foot for what happened at the G7... it's clear the economic rents and profits and industries of the future come from the first movers in this situation, not the late followers," he said.
"I want people to be looking at how we adjust our economy, whether the right answer is cutting the amount of plastic being produced or investing heavily in recycling technology or changing the type of technology and plastic we're using. There's a whole series of different ways we can adjust for this."
"We just need to join the debate."
And far from just calling for others to move, Carnegie said he would be willing to throw his own money at projects.
"If i can find something that's a stable policy and a good investment, absolutely," he said.
"[But] I've got no way, I've looked. I see these investment opportunities all the time, and in the policy uncertainty, there's no way for anyone to make an investment... you can't attract venture capital into a policy vacuum."