Ninety per cent of the US plastics industry’s reported climate change pollution takes place in just 18 communities, where residents earn 28% less than the average American household and are 67% more likely to be minority communities.
A report, by Bennington College’s Beyond Plastics project, found that the American plastics industry is releasing at least 232m tons of GHG annually, the equivalent to 116 average-sized coal-fired power plants. Since 2019, at least 42 US plastics facilities have opened, are under construction or are in the permitting process. If the facilities become fully operational, they could release an additional 55m tons of GHG – or the equivalent of another 27 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants – by 2025.
“Plastics is the new coal and it is a major environmental justice concern … The health impacts of the emissions are disproportionately borne 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.
The World Economic Forum is projecting global plastics production to triple by 2050.
Enck said the new focus of the fossil fuel industry is plastics, saying: “Fossil fuel companies are making less money on generating power and less money for transportation … so they see plastics as the plan B. There’s no plan B for the rest of us. We are in a climate crisis,” she said.
The report identified 10 different stages in which plastics manufacturing emits the most significant GHG. Hydro-fracking is expected to release 45m tons of methane annually in the US by 2025. Transporting and processing fracked gases emit roughly 4.8m tons of methane a year. Petrochemical ethane gas cracker facilities release at least 70m tons of GHG annually. Other plastic raw materials manufacturing is responsible for 28m tons of GHG emissions per year. Exports and imports of plastics raw materials and products emit at least 51m tons of GHG annually, equivalent to more than 25 coal-fired power plants.