600 Million Metric Tons of Plastic May Fill Oceans by 2036 If We Don’t Act Now

As the private transport sector shifts to green hydrogen, batteries, and biofuels, fossil fuel stakeholders are looking for new revenue streams in the petrochemical and plastics industries. That’s bad news for a world already swimming — literally — in plastic pollution. Product manufacturers and other upstream forces could reverse the petrochemical trend, but only if they — along with policymakers, voters and consumers — continue to push for real change beyond the business-as-usual strategy of only advocating for post-consumer recycling.

Plastic everywhere!

Some signs of progress are beginning to emerge. There is increasing public awareness about the plastic pollution crisis, and microplastics. In 2020, the World Wildlife Fund conducted a study that found that 86% of Americans were willing to support plastic pollution. measures to cut down on plastic pollutionIncreased recycling and banning single-use plastic bags Private sector effortsAlso, efforts to reduce plastic packaging are beginning to take place.

However, these trends won’t necessarily lead to a global slowdown in plastic production or use, let alone a reversal. For example, the United States is both a leadingProducer of plastic the largest source of plastic wasteAll over the world. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that, under a “business as usual” scenario, plastic waste will triple globally by 2060. Petrochemical producers are also interested in growing. markets in Asia and Africa.

Even if some countries do not give up on plastic, the global impact of their efforts could easily be offset with rising demand elsewhere in the world for plastics. In a 2016 report titled, “The New Plastics Economy,” the World Economic Forum(WEF) reported that the world’s plastic production reached 311 million tonnes in 2014. This is an increase of just 15 million tons in 1964. The WEF predicted that plastic production would increase by more than 600 million tonnes by 2036.

The increased production of plastic is one key driver. availability of low-cost natural gas in the U.S., which was a result of the George W. Bush administration’s successful efforts to lift Clean Water Act protections on shale gas operations, resulting in “billions of gallons of toxic frack fluid from being regulated as industrial waste,” accordingGreenpeace USA. In 2018, the shale boom of the 2000s was credited for stimulating economic growth. a decade-long petrochemical buildoutThe U.S. has completed 333 chemical industry projects in the last 10 years, with a total value of $202.4 billion. The following are of global interest: 70 percentAll of the financing came directly or indirectly from foreign sources.

Another driving force on supply side is the shift from crude oil (petrol) to oilFor plastic production, a trend that was aided in part by the fracking boom’s glut of ethane. The decarbonization and reorganization of the transportation sector doesn’t necessarily slow down crude oil production. “As traditional demands for oil — vehicle fuels — are declining as the transport sector is increasingly electrified, the oil industry is seeing plastics as a key output that can make up for losses in other markets,” notedA November 2021 article in The Conversation. As a result, refiners are more dependent on the petrochemical markets.

Stepping Stone to Change: Recycling

Plastic production and waste have many impacts. These include the destruction of the local environment and the emission of greenhouse gases from oil and gas drilling and refinery operations, as well as the ever-increasing amount of plastic waste in our environment, including microparticles in water, soil, and eventually, in the human body.

Plastic is also a major danger wildlife, and in particular, marine species, as so much plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans. Unless we take concrete steps and “change how we produce, use and dispose of plastic, the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple from 9-14 million… [metric tons] per year in 2016 to a projected 23-37 million… [metric tons] per year by 2040,” accordingTo the United Nations Environment Program.

Fossil energy advocates have long advocated recycling as a way to reduce plastic pollution. This strategy’s failure over generations is evident: The United Nations Environment Program points out, “Of the seven billion tons of plastic waste generated globally so far [since the 1950s], less than 10 per cent has been recycled.” Despite recent advances in recycling technology, the amount of recycled plastic in the production stream mostly remains pitifully lowAll over the world. Nations with lax environmental regulations — mainly poor countries — have become destinations for mountains of mismanaged plastic waste, in addition to bearing the weight of pollution related to plastic processing.

Recycling is still important but it is necessary to take swift and practical actions several steps upstream at the points of demand and source.

Seeds of Change

The task of reducing plastic consumption at the source is left to the supply chain stakeholders and individual consumers.

This is a huge task but not impossible. It is possible to do this by following these steps: rapid evolution of the renewable energy industryIt shows how the global economy can pivot to new models when it has bottom-line advantages and policy goals that are supported by voters, consumers, and industry stakeholders.

To reduce the upstream consumption of petrochemicals consumer sentiment can influence supply chain decisionsAs shown by these emerging trends, the market can be driven to produce and package more sustainable products.

One trend is the increasing awareness of the ocean plastic crisis by the public. ImagesThe sight of plastic-entrapped turtles, and other sea creatures, can generate an emotional reaction that is more powerful than street litter and landfills. Other stakeholders who have an interest in increasing public awareness of ocean plastic include the tourism, hospitality, and fishing industries.

A related development is that the public awareness factor has rippled into activism investor movement, which is now beginning to focus attention the financial chain behind petrochemical industries. The organization will be incorporated in 2020. Portfolio.earthA campaign on the role banks play was launched, for instance, by in financing petrochemical operations.

The second trend is new recycling technology. This allows manufacturers to replace virgin materials with ocean-sourced plastics. To prevent waste from ending its journey to the ocean, however, this circular economy model must also be implemented from cradle-to-grave and back again.

The new technology for recycling carbon gases can offer manufacturers new opportunities to increase customer loyalty through climate action. The company LanzaTechThis is a great example of growth in this area recycling carbon. The company’s proprietary microbes are engineeredTo digest industrial waste gasses and biogas. The process yields chemical building blocks that can be used to make plastics and other fuels. This area also has other companies that extract ambient carbon from the atmosphere to make plastics and synthetic fabrics.

Another trend is the rise of new technology, which allows manufacturers to incorporate more recycled material into their supply chains. In the past, bottles and other products made with recycled plastics did not meet durability expectations. Manufacturers are now able to choose from a variety of materials. new generation of recycled plasticsThey perform as well or better than their virgin counterparts.

All of these trends are just starting to emerge and become significant forces for positive change. Fossil energy stakeholders are not motivated to support a swift transition out of petrochemicals.

Some legacy stakeholders view the renewable energy industry as a form of greenwashing. Shell is one example, which touts its solar and wind interests. expandingIts petrochemical operations. ExxonMobil is a more serious example. It continues to publicize its long-running petrochemical activities. pursuit of algae biofuelThis is an area that is still years away commercial development.

Until voters, policy makers, and consumers take action to reduce plastic pollution at its source, the petrochemical sector will continue to feed the global plastic dependency, regardless of the impact on public health and the planet’s well-being.

This article was created by Earth | Food | Life, a project by the Independent Media Institute.