A new study claims growing use of plastics is having a devastating impact through climate change, but a trade group representing the industry counters with an exact opposite view.
"Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet" is a new report from a handful of environmental groups, including the Center for International Environmental Law, Break Free From Plastic and 5 Gyres.
The report said it studied greenhouse gas emissions "at each state of the plastic lifecycle" and concluded rapid expansion of the plastic industry during the past 10 years, as well as future growth, means greenhouse gas impacts are accelerating.
"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," CIEL President Carroll Muffett said in a statement.
"Because the drivers of the climate crisis and the plastic crisis are closely linked, so too are their solutions: Humanity must end its reliance on fossil fuels and on fossil plastics that the planet can no longer afford," Muffett continued.
The Plastics division of the American Chemistry Council pushed back against the report, claiming plastic products compare favorably against those made with other materials.
"A recent lifecycle study of plastic packaging found that replacing plastics with alternatives would nearly double greenhouse gas emissions," said Steve Russell, vice president of the ACC Plastic division, in a statement.
"Although plastic production does generate low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, plastics are often used in products that help to reduce much larger amounts of greenhouse gas emissions over their lifecycle," he said.
The CIEL report suggests some far-reaching changes, including ending production of single-use, disposable plastic products, stopping development of new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure and transitioning to "zero-waste communities."
The report also calls for implementing extended producer responsibility "as a critical component of circular economies."
The report claims that annual greenhouse gas emissions for the entire plastics lifecycle, including production and incineration, will be equivalent of 189 coal-fired power plants this year. That number will increase to 295 in 2030 and 615 in 2050 as the industry grows.
The emergence of hydraulic fracturing of shale — or fracking — has unlocked vast amounts of natural gas and oil that previously was thought to be unreachable in the United States.
While that has led to lower gasoline prices for drivers, the report authors said the advent of less expensive natural gas also is creating a plastics boom.
"Unfortunately, the CIEL report focuses largely on the anticipated growth of plastic production but fails to note that production is growing in response to increasing global demand for lightweight automotive parts, building insulation and product packaging — all of which will play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Russell said.
Courtney Bernhardt is director of research at the Environmental Integrity Project, another group involved in the study.
"Our world is drowning in plastic, and the plastics industry has been overlooked as a major source of greenhouse gases. But there are ways to solve this problem. We need to end the production of single use, disposable plastic containers and encourage a transition to a zero-waste future," she said in a statement.
The full report is available at: ciel.org and an executive summary is at: https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Plastic-and-Climate-Executive-Summary-2019.pdf