The plastics industry plays a major — and growing — role in climate change, according to a report published today by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).
By 2050, making and disposing of plastics could be responsible for a cumulative 56 gigatons of carbon, the report found, up to 14 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget.
In 2019, the plastics industry is on track to release as much greenhouse gas pollution as 189 new coal-fired power plants running year-round, the report found — and the industry plans to expand so rapidly that by 2030, it will create 1.34 gigatons of climate-changing emissions a year, equal to 295 coal plants.
It’s an expansion that, in the United States, is largely driven by the shale gas rush unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The petrochemical expansion also comes over the same period of time that international plans to reduce climate change call for rapid reductions in greenhouse gases from all sources — transportation, electricity, and industry.
“Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely,” said Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL, citing UN figures. “It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well.”
“If growth trends continue,” the report concludes, “plastic will account for 20 percent of global oil consumption by 2050.”
The new report, co-authored by Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), 5 Gyres, and Break Free From Plastic, looks at how plastic production carries major impacts for the climate as it goes from raw materials tapped by the fossil fuel industries all the way through its ultimate disposal or breakdown in the environment.
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