A new wave of large investments in global plastic production threatens to exacerbate a global crisis of already epic proportions, according to a report from The Guardian. Fossil fuel companies and other investors have poured investments totaling over 180 billion dollars into plastic production facilities since 2010, and according to experts will fuel a 40 percent rise in plastic production over the next ten years. Companies such as Shell and Exxon are investing in what are called “cracking” facilities, which produce the raw materials that make up the plastic products that have become ubiquitous in our lives.
Warnings from scientists over the rise of plastic pollution have been particularly dire.
Carroll Muffett, president of the US Center for International Environmental Law, explains:
“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it. Around 99% of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies, like Exxon and Shell, that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.”
A new boom in shale gas extraction in the US has fueled the investment. Natural gas liquids, an essential component for the production of plastic resin, has become significantly less expensive in recent years. According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), this has brought on a wave of investments totaling 186 billion dollars toward 318 new projects.
The ACC’s chief economist, Kevin Swift, said:
“There has been a revolution in the US with the shale gas technologies, with the fracking, the horizontal drilling. The cost of our raw material base has gone down by roughly two thirds.”
This past summer, scientists warned that plastic pollution alreadt risks “near permanent pollution of the earth.” Earlier this month, scientists at a UN environment conference called the crisis an “ocean Armageddon.”
A Guardian investigation in June found that of the whopping one million plastic bottles purchased every minute worldwide, most wind up either in landfills or in the ocean.
But the alarm bells sounded by scientists stand in contrast to the new wave of investment from corporations. Organizations such as the ACC argue that plastic production boosts the US economy and has provided hundreds of thousands of jobs, producing important products such as medical supplies and auto parts.
Steve Russell, the ACC’s vice president of plastics, defended the use of plastics, even in terms of their environmental impact:
“Advanced plastics enable us to do more with less in in almost every facet of life and commerce. From reducing packaging, to driving lighter cars, to living in more fuel-efficient homes, plastics help us reduce energy use, carbon emissions and waste.”