The Petroleum Industry: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Plastic

Plastic Wars

PBS Frontline  (2020)

Film Review

This documentary reveals how the climate movement and the exponential growth of renewable energy has led the petroleum industry to shift their focus from fossil fuels to plastics production. At present they are investing tens of billions of dollars in new plants to transform gas and oil into plastics.

Meanwhile the plastics lobby still tries to shift responsibility for widespread plastic pollution pollution to consumers and local government (for their failure to recycle them). This despite the reality that only 10% of plastic can be economically recycled. Because the price of new plastic is so cheap, the vast majority of recycled plastic is far too expensive to compete.

Prior to watching this film, I had no idea the concept of plastic recycling originated with an industry lobby group known as the Plastics Council. They’re also responsible for the little recycling symbol stamped into the bottom of all plastic containers. Its purpose is to deliberately mislead consumers into believing the containers are recyclable.

Up until 2018, China accepted most of the plastics recycled from the industrial North. They, too, could only recycle 10% of them (the milk and soda containers). They burned the rest, greatly aggravating their deadly air pollution problems.

At present, Indonesia has replaced China as the major recipient of First World plastic waste. They convert about 10% of it into tiny pellets which are used to make new plastic. The rest is either burned or illegally dumped on empty fields.

Sixty percent of the plastics clogging up oceans and killing sea life originates from Asia.

 

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