The plastics industry in the United States is on track to release more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than coal-fired power plants by the end of the decade, according to a new report released Thursday.
The report, from Bennington College’s Beyond Plastics Project, found that the US plastics industry emits at least 232 million tonnes of GHGs per year, the equivalent of 116 midsize coal-fired power plants.
“Plastic is the new charcoal and it’s a major concern for environmental justice… The health impacts of emissions are borne disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color,” said Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former Regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator under President Obama.
Ninety percent of the pollution caused by climate change reported by the plastics industry occurs in just 18 communities, where residents earn 28% less than the average American household and are 67% more likely to be minority communities.
The report identified 10 different stages during which the manufacturing of plastics emits the most significant GHGs.
Hydraulic fracturing is expected to release 45 million tonnes of methane per year in the United States by 2025. The transportation and processing of fracking gases emits approximately 4.8 million tonnes of methane per year.
Ethane gas cracking petrochemical plants release at least 70 million tonnes of GHGs per year. The manufacture of other plastic raw materials is responsible for 28 million tonnes of GHG emissions per year.
Exports and imports of raw materials and plastics emit at least 51 million tonnes of GHGs per year, which is equivalent to more than 25 coal-fired power plants.
In addition, the report found that the petrochemical industry plastics infrastructure is developing rapidly.
As of 2019, at least 42 plastic facilities in the United States have opened, are under construction, or are in the process of licensing. If the facilities become fully operational, they could release an additional 55 million tonnes of GHGs – or the equivalent of 27 other 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants – by 2025.
“I want to explain the ethane crackers to you. On hydrofracturing sites, you have ethane released into the atmosphere. The best way to prevent this ethane flaring in the atmosphere would be to close and cap the hydrofracking properly. Instead, the petrochemical industry has found a way to use ethane as a building block for plastics, ”Enck said at a press conference Thursday.
” They [companies in the industry] capture ethane, build new pipelines, send gas to ethane cracking facilities, which are heated to very high temperatures and cracked, hence the name, and which became the cornerstone of single-use plastic. It uses a huge amount of energy… all of this to give us more single-use plastic packaging, ”she said.
While the World Economic Forum predicts that global plastics production is expected to triple by 2050, Enck said the new focus of the fossil fuel industry is plastic, stating, “Fossil fuel companies are making less money. money to generate electricity and less for transport … [they] see plastics as plan B.
“There’s no plan B for the rest of us. We are in a climate crisis, ”she said.